Researchers at the University of Exeter have discovered 81 earthworks known as geoglpyhs across 1,200 miles of Amazon Rainforest in Brazil. This evidence, outlined in the journal Nature Communications, indicates that the dense, difficult-to-navigate region was once home to up to ten million people prior to European colonization. “There is a common misconception that the Amazon is an untouched landscape, home to scattered, nomadic communities. This is not the case,” said study researcher Jonas Gregorio de Souza in a statement. “We have found that some populations away from the major rivers are much larger than previously thought, and these people had an impact on the environment which we can still find today.”

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Although scientists are not sure exactly what purpose the geoglyphs served, they believe that they may have been used for ceremonial purposes. Many of them were discovered in close proximity to the remains of villages, which were consistently inhabited by large groups of people between 1250 AD and 1500 AD. These population centers would also have been populated with a wide variety of ethnic groups speaking different languages across the 1,200 mile range. “Our research shows we need to re-evaluate the history of the Amazon,” explained study researcher Jose Irirte in a statement. “It certainly wasn’t an area populated only near the banks of large rivers, and the people who lived there did change the landscape. “The area we surveyed had a population of at least tens of thousands.”

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Scientists believe that they have discovered only one-third of the geoglyphs and man-made structures within the Amazon, while 95% of the Amazon river valley region remains unexplored. By understanding how the Amazon was settled in the past, we may gain a better sense of how to approach sustainability policy today. “The Amazon is crucial to regulating the Earth’s climate and knowing more about its history will help everyone make informed decisions about how it should be cared for in the future,” said de Souza.

+ University of Exeter

Via IFLScience

Images via University of Exeter