Civilizations in the Amazon


Long ago, there was an explorer, Christopher Columbus, to be exact, that had just landed his ships in the Caribbean Islands. Yet, he didn’t even know of a whole civilization being built deep in the soggy undergrowth of the pristine Amazon. These Amerindians were constructing city by city, building a civilization that would disappear within time. Years later, if you would have traveled to the hidden cities, you’d have seen ruins. Well, mainly overgrown ruins, the Amazon doesn’t take breaks from growing.

Recently, about 20 different settlements have been found in the Xingu (sheenGOO) region of the Amazon. Many compare the Amazon city with others found in North America, Peru, Asia, Temperate Europe, and Africa. "This research overlaps what we're finding in Bolivia in that it shows massive transformations of the landscape through agriculture, transportation, and controlling water, using some pretty sophisticated engineering techniques," said Clark Erickson, an anthropologist from the University of Pennsylvania and the University Museum.

            There are many opinions about the discovery. One opinion is that the discovery wasn’t real because people would die trying to live there, the Amazon rainforest is a “notoriously hostile environment for agriculture,” quoted National Geographic. Others think that the Amazon rainforest wouldn't be the same because of how the people that lived there would treat it, “the Amazon’s pristine wilderness couldn’t survive encroachment by humans because they would destroy it,” quoted by the Los Angeles Times. Then some think that maybe every piece of land was once inhabited by man, “maybe there are no pristine patches of nature,” also quoted the Los Angeles Times. Who’s to say what’s true and what isn’t? No one can make up their minds about these Amerindians and the environment they used to live in and still do. How did all these questions start?

            Michael Heckenberger, an Associate Professor from the University of Florida, and his colleagues made the magnificent discovery finding hidden cities in the Amazon basin, by the Xingu region. Heckenberger has studied the Xingu region for about 12 years. He began his search in 1990, and in 2003, he found what he had been looking for. He shared much information about the discovery. His interests in complexity, Brazil, history, archaeology, and complex societies helped him start. He commits himself to his work, which requires commitment to holistic, deeply contextual interpretation, and contextual research. He is fascinated by what he does and stops at almost nothing to fulfill his dreams.

            On their great expedition, they found settlements dating from 1250-1600 AD. The settlements were city-like, with a distance of about 2-3 miles separating each city. There were approximately 6-12 towns/villages within each city. One Amazonian city would house about 2,500-5,000 people. Even though it was hard to tell because of the overgrowth, Heckenberger estimated about 50,000 people were living on an area a little smaller than New Jersey. The hot, humid weather disintegrated a lot of human remains for study. All of the villages were connected by complex interlinking roads. Since all the roads were connected, the cities were called ‘Galactic Clusters.’ Everything seemed to be built in relation to the stars.

            Heckenberger explained how the cities seemed to be built from a very clear plan. Each community has identical roads. There would be a central plaza in the center of each village, with all roads seeming to radiate out of it, which shows there must have been lots of social interaction. Ditches, curbs, working forest areas, open parklands, moats, and bridges defined certain areas of the village. These civilizations show knowledge of mathematics, astronomy, architecture, and engineering.

            There must have been threats because a 16-foot deep ditch was built along the perimeter of a village for up to 1.5 miles long. The ditches only surrounded half the town; a stone wall surrounded the other half.

            When Heckenberger first found these cities, they were overgrown by vines and other plants in the Amazon; therefore, they were also named the ‘Garden Cities.’ An ancient astrological observatory was also found near the Galactic Clusters. It was considered the ‘Stonehenge’ of Brazil. There were about 127 rocks or blocks, each about nine feet tall. The observatory could possibly be from 500-2,000 years old. It resembles a temple, and the rocks were positioned to mark winter solstice. They think this because on exactly December 21, the shadow of one of the rocks disappears completely, meaning the sun is directly above it. In December, the path of the sun allows its rays to pass through a hole in one block. It is suggested that they used it to calculate agricultural activity and religious rituals. It is amazingly similar to the original Stonehenge in Salisbury, England. There were pottery shards found at the site, offering the knowledge that it was older than Columbus’s voyage and could be used by the people that use to live in the Xingu region.

            “The Amerindians were amazingly sophisticated cultural innovators.” Well, they did transform the entire forest landscape! “Though, they transformed the landscape in a sustainable way, not a destructive way.” What was found in the Upper Xingu shows signs of extensive human activity! “These were not cities, but urbanisms built around the towns,” quoted Heckenberger.

            Researchers can only imagine what went on. They did find out quite a bit about how they lived. They mainly hunted and fished for most of their food. They were able to manage wetland and used fish farms. They also gathered fruits from the forest and grew crops. The Amazon’s soil isn’t the best for growing, so their farmers converted surrounding forest areas to grow fruit. The slash-and-burn technique helped the soil, but the Amerindians basically added charcoal and animal bones for fertilizer. They created a highly hybrid soil, though they would still leave fields to fallow for about 30 years. Since they would fallow for so long, they needed lots of room to farm. Thirty thousand square miles, about the size of France, of ‘raised mounds’ were found close to the civilizations. They were raised by hand so that the water from the heavy rainfall wouldn’t drown the crops.

            The Indians grew orchards, large fields of grasses called sapas-Imperata, for thatched houses, piqui, and etc. Cassava (manioc) was one of the most important crops; it was used for its root. It was noticed that they mainly grew trees with fruit because it was hard to sow and harvest fields without domesticated animals. They might have had domesticated animals, but researchers can’t be sure.

            Some of the Amerindians lived in villages, others on their own. Houses were made of clay, wood, thatched grasses, and some stones. The clay and wood houses deteriorated in the hot, humid air of the Amazon, leaving mainly thatched houses and stone houses to study. All of the houses were fairly small, except for some that families would share; each having their own section. The roof and walls formed a continuous curve, so rain would run off. The Indians were very orderly even having ‘dark earth’ areas, or places for garbage.

            Bone, wooden, and clay tools were found although surprisingly not very many stone tools. It was suggested that there wouldn’t have been good stones to use. The Amerindians also enjoyed religious festivals where they believed in many gods. They found animal fossils near the site of the cities. The fossils were mainly from deer, tapir, and sloth. They could have possibly been used to help transport things or maybe they are just for food.

            No massive pyramids, large structures, or any sort of monuments other than their wide roads were found. It showed they mustn’t have been aware of the Mayas, Aztecs, or other Indian groups that supported monuments.

The Incas had many similarities with the Amerindians found in the Amazon basin. The Incas lived at the site of Machu Picchu, many times referred to as the Lost City of the Incas, in the eastern jungles of Peru. Many suggest the Incas possibly used to live in the Amazon area, or anywhere from Bolivia, Brazil, and Peru. Machu Picchu seemed to be linked to hidden cities with treasures. Machu Picchu was never plundered or destroyed. It wasn’t even found by any early explorers, including the Spanish. The Incas died from small pox and other diseases brought by Spanish conquistadors. The gold of the city was washed into rivers in Brazil, Bolivia, and Maldonado.

            Patiti, also known as El Dorado, had similarities with the cities found. It was a gold mine for the natives. Mario Polia claimed he was taken there by natives, yet, no one was ever able to find it again. They believed what he said and started to connect it with other ancient cities.

            Archeologists were jumping with joy when another ancient city was found in Marajo, Brazil. It is on a little island right on the edge of Brazil over looking the Indian Ocean. Marajo, of the Marajoara people, was a pre-Columbian society along with the others. It was estimated to have been occupied anywhere from 800-1400 AD. They also used mounds for farming and collected sea shells from the ocean.

            Many wonder exactly where these ‘people of the Amazon’ came from. They were believed to have crossed on a large mass of land from Asia about 15,000-20,000 years ago. They originally settled in the basin 8,000 years ago. Recently it had been discovered that there were others before them though. They may have been some of Brazil’s earliest civilizations. These people could have come from Africa or the Polynesian Islands. Some even think that the Homo sapiens sapiens were just another species among the forest. Maybe they were descendents of the all women Amazon tribes. The earlier Indians originally settled 12,000 years before this recent civilization discovered in the basin.

            There still are groups of Indians living in the Amazon, over 200 tribes to be exact. The tribes, like the Guarani, Tupinamba, Kuikuro, etc. could be descendents of this early civilization. The Kuikuro, who speak Carib, could identify with some same sorts of pottery and symbols. They are referred to as the ‘Ngikoga,’ or ‘Wild Indians.’ Though, the word Kuikuro means ‘fish place.’ They used to live between Brazil’s Kuliene and Kuliseu rivers but moved. The Palikur Indians could also recognize some of the pottery and symbols. Other tribes include: the Aweti, Kalapalo, Kamaiura, Ayapo, Matip, Mehinako, Suya, Mahukua, Trumai, Waura, and the Yawalapiti.

            There have been many theories about the Amazon people, even that they used to live side by side with people from Atlantis. There was an explorer named Colonel Fawcett who traveled to the Amazon in search of ancient cities in 1893. His main goal was to find the civilization that Heckenberger later found in 2003. His friend had given him a statue that was believed to have been Alantean. His friend had claimed he had found it in Brazil. He was eager to find out if Atlantis was in the Matto Grosso region. He was told by a Mafaqua Indian chief about houses with ‘stars to light them which never went out and that were close to the ground.’ These ‘lights’ were ‘cold lights’, ever-burning lights used once in Asia, possibly fueled by coal. There was also a ‘city’ where strange temples and baptismal ceremonies were practiced. Another time, a group of people, cut from their main civilization, were ‘terrified to see many moons suspended in the air and shining with great brightness all night long.’ These ‘moons’ were actually booyas, rounded stones set in large bamboo sockets. If the chief of the tribe would point to the booyas, a thunderbolt would flash. After sunset, the ‘moons’ would glow neon-like lights. The lights were so bright, they engulfed all near them. These were also considered ‘cold lights.’ There also was an island where a tribe lived that used cold light. They had a 7.75 meter pillar to hold their great moon. It would illuminate all of the lake so that there was no dispelling darkness.

            Matto Grosso natives, people that lived slightly south of the Xingu people, told Colonel Fawcett, “Those people have a source, or illumination, which is strange to us. In fact, they are a remnant of a civilization which had gone and which had retained old knowledge.” They could have used luminous plants for light. Their secret means of illumination known to the ancients still remains, it is to be rediscovered by scientists today. "Whether we get through, and emerge again, or leave our bones to rot in there, one things for certain. The answer to the enigma of Ancient South America --and perhaps of the prehistoric world --may be found when those old cities are located and opened up to scientific research. That the cities exist, I know..."- Colonel Percy Fawcett. Colonel Fawcett launched another expedition to find more ancient cities in 1925, in the Amazon rainforest. He wrote a letter to his wife on May 29, 1925. He was never seen or heard of again.

When the first explorers came to the Amazon, they brought destruction with them. The Europeans, Spanish, Dutch, and Portuguese were the first to come. They destroyed about seven million Amerindians, 90% were gone within 100 years. The Xingu people disappeared suddenly once explorers came. They were killed off mostly by slavery, old world diseases, missions, and by forced resettlement.

            Franciso de Orellana was the first European explorer to travel the Amazon. He came because of rumors of gold deep in the forest. The Portuguese took over in 1494, claiming possession on April 22, 1500. The colonists then captured local natives for slaves. The Spanish arrived around 1600; the Dutch coming 30 years later. They settled in what is now Pernamburo. The Portuguese succeeded in driving the Dutch out in 1654. A man named Sao Paula discovered diamonds and gold in the early 1700s. Mediterranean traders were exploiting the Amazon commercially, before the Spanish explorers even came. The Xinguano’s (sheenQWAHnoh) people had come to an end.

            Today, the Amazon is disappearing almost as fast as its people have in the past. Indians still make their homes there, but because the Amazon rainforest is being cut down for wood, the Indians have no placed to live. About 78 million acres are being cut down a year, about 214,000 acres a day. The Amazon may be disappearing, but its history isn’t. It is important to know about our ancestors and where they came from. “The Amazon’s people can’t be forgotten for the sake of our own knowledge and history in the future,” quoted Michael Heckenberger.