More than 10,000 pre-Columbian earthworks are still hidden throughout Amazonia

Science. 2023 Oct 6;382(6666):103-109. doi: 10.1126/science.ade2541. Epub 2023 Oct 5.


Indigenous societies are known to have occupied the Amazon basin for more than 12,000 years, but the scale of their influence on Amazonian forests remains uncertain. We report the discovery, using LIDAR (light detection and ranging) information from across the basin, of 24 previously undetected pre-Columbian earthworks beneath the forest canopy. Modeled distribution and abundance of large-scale archaeological sites across Amazonia suggest that between 10,272 and 23,648 sites remain to be discovered and that most will be found in the southwest. We also identified 53 domesticated tree species significantly associated with earthwork occurrence probability, likely suggesting past management practices. Closed-canopy forests across Amazonia are likely to contain thousands of undiscovered archaeological sites around which pre-Columbian societies actively modified forests, a discovery that opens opportunities for better understanding the magnitude of ancient human influence on Amazonia and its current state.

MeSH terms

  • Archaeology*
  • Brazil
  • Forests*
  • Humans