Sunday, January 26, 2014

Seeking the Amazon's lost civilizations

How widespread were pre-Columbian civilizations within the world's largest rainforest ?

The Amazon rainforest is one of the most difficult places for archaeologists to study, not only due to its sheer size but also because undertaking an expedition to the region can prove to be both expensive and perilous.

To help make things easier, scientists have come up with a new way to look for signs of pre-Columbian settlements that can be achieved using a computer. The technique involves mapping regions of the rainforest where the soil has been intentionally enriched for agricultural purposes.

By looking for this enriched soil, known as "terra preta", researchers have been able to piece together a map of the rainforest showing the most populated regions over the last 2,500 years. This map can then be used to pinpoint regions with the highest likelihood of finding earthworks hidden beneath the forest canopy.

The results so far suggest that areas with terra preta are most commonly found in the central and Eastern regions while being less commonly found in the west where runoff from the mountains has made the soil more naturally enriched.