Archaeologists may have discovered a tropical version of Stonehenge in Brazilian Amazon
2006 06 29
By Stan Lehman | cbsnews.com
A grouping of granite blocks along a grassy Amazon
hilltop may be the vestiges of a centuries-old astronomical
observatory _ a find archaeologists say indicates early
rainforest inhabitants were more sophisticated than
The 127 blocks, some as high as 9 feet tall, are spaced
at regular intervals around the hill, like a crown 100
feet in diameter.
On the shortest day of the year _ Dec. 21 _ the shadow
of one of the blocks disappears when the sun is directly
"It is this block's alignment with the winter
solstice that leads us to believe the site was once
an astronomical observatory," said Mariana Petry
Cabral, an archaeologist at the Amapa State Scientific
and Technical Research Institute. "We may be also
looking at the remnants of a sophisticated culture."
Anthropologists have long known that local indigenous
populations were acute observers of the stars and sun.
But the discovery of a physical structure that appears
to incorporate this knowledge suggests pre-Columbian
Indians in the Amazon rainforest may have been more
sophisticated than previously suspected.
"Transforming this kind of knowledge into a monument;
the transformation of something ephemeral into something
concrete, could indicate the existence of a larger population
and of a more complex social organization," Cabral
Cabral has been studying the site, near the village
of Calcoene, just north of the equator in Amapa state
in far northern Brazil, since last year. She believes
it was once inhabited by the ancestors of the Palikur
Indians, and while the blocks have not yet been submitted
to carbon dating, she says pottery shards near the site
indicate they are pre-Columbian and maybe older _ as
much as 2,000 years old.
Last month, archaeologists working on a hillside north
of Lima, Peru, announced the discovery of the oldest
astronomical observatory in the Western Hemisphere _
giant stone carvings, apparently 4,200 years old, that
align with sunrise and sunset on Dec. 21.
While the Incas, Mayans and Aztecs built large cities
and huge rock structures, pre-Columbian Amazon societies
built smaller settlements of wood and clay that quickly
deteriorated in the hot, humid Amazon climate, disappearing
centuries ago, archaeologists say.
Farmers and fishermen in the region around the Amazon
site have long known about it, and the local press has
dubbed it the "tropical Stonehenge." Archeologists
got involved last year after geographers and geologists
did a socio-economic survey of the area, by foot and
helicopter, and noticed "the unique circular structure
on top of the hill," Cabral said.
Scientists not involved in the discovery said it could
prove valuable to understanding pre-Columbian societies
in the Amazon.
"No one has ever described something like this
before. This is an extremely novel find _ a one of a
kind type of thing," said Michael Heckenberger
of the University of Florida's Department of Anthropology.
He said that while carbon dating and further excavation
must be carried out, the find adds to a growing body
of thought among archaeologists that prehistory in the
Amazon region was more varied than had been believed.
"Given that astronomical objects, stars, constellations
etc., have a major importance in much of Amazonian mythology
and cosmology, it does not in any way surprise me that
such an observatory exists," said Richard Callaghan,
a professor of geography, anthropology and archaeology
at the University of Calgary.
Brazilian archaeologists will return in August, when
the rainy season ends, to carry out carbon dating and
"The traditional image is that some time thousands
of years ago small groups of tropical forest horticulturists
arrived in the area and they never changed _ (that)
what we see today is just like it was 3,000 years ago,"
Heckenberger said. "This is one more thing that
suggests that through the past thousands of years, societies
have changed quite a lot."
Article from: http://www.cbsnews.com/stories/
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