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No empty eden

Humans have lived in the Amazon rainforest much longer than previously thought, and even helped enrich its biodiversity.

Stonehenge-like structures, 2,000 years old, have been discovered in Acre state in the western Brazilian Amazon. Swansea University’s Dr Neil Loader and Emeritus Prof Alayne Street-Perrott are part of the team who found the ancient earthworks.[footnote ftnt_no=”1″]

The team said the function of these mysterious sites is still little understood.

“The indications are that the geoglyphs were constructed amongst taller vegetation. So, unlike the towering Maya pyramids of Central America, they were likely not visible above the forest canopy, and this raises questions about their purpose,” Dr Neil Loader

Purpose aside, these magnificent structures prove once again that our view of the Amazon as a pristine ecosystem, free from human influence, couldn’t be further from the truth. This is a landscape that has always been shaped by – and often enriched by – human activity.

The research found plant species in the areas that could only have been artificially brought together by humans.

Instead of destroying huge areas of forest as modern humans have done, the earliest Amazon inhabitants concentrated on economically valuable trees such as palms. The team have likened it to a form of “prehistoric supermarket” of useful forest products, and say there is “tantalising evidence” to suggest the biodiversity of some of Acre’s remaining forests is down to those ancient agroforestry practices.

Image credits: Salman Kahn, Jose Iriate, Jenny Watling / Exeter University