Human Settlements in Amazonia Much Older Than Previously Thought

The team's excavations of the forest islands revealed human skeletons that had been intentionally buried in a manner unlike that of typical hunter gatherers and instead were more akin to the behaviors of complex societies — characterized by political hierarchy and the production of food. 
(Image: Jose Capriles)
The team's excavations of the forest islands revealed human skeletons that had been intentionally buried in a manner unlike that of typical hunter gatherers and instead were more akin to the behaviors of complex societies — characterized by political hierarchy and the production of food. (Image: Jose Capriles)

Humans settled in southwestern Amazonia and even experimented with agriculture much earlier than previously thought, according to an international team of researchers. Jose Capriles, assistant professor of anthropology, said:

The archaeological team conducted its study on three forest islands — Isla del Tesoro, La Chacra, and San Pablo — within the seasonally flooded savanna of the Llanos de Moxos in northern Bolivia. Capriles said:

 Because the acidic soils and tropical climate made preservation of organic remains very poor, the researchers had to base their conclusions on indirect evidence — mostly geochemical analyses — rather than direct evidence such as artifacts. (Image: Jose Capriles)


Because the acidic soils and tropical climate made preservation of organic remains very poor, the researchers had to base their conclusions on indirect evidence — mostly geochemical analyses — rather than direct evidence such as artifacts. (Image: Jose Capriles)

The team’s excavations of the forest islands revealed human skeletons that had been intentionally buried in a manner unlike that of typical hunter-gatherers and instead were more akin to the behaviors of complex societies — characterized by political hierarchy and the production of food. Their results appear  in Science Advances. Capriles said:

Capriles noted that it is rare to find human or even archaeological remains that predate the use of fired pottery in the region, adding:

According to Umberto Lombardo, an earth scientist at the University of Bern, when the researchers first published their discovery of these archaeological sites in 2013, they had to base their conclusions on indirect evidence — mostly geochemical analyses — rather than direct evidence such as artifacts. He explained:

Capriles noted that the human bones on these forest islands were preserved despite the poor conditions because they were encased within middens — or trash heaps — containing abundant fragments of shell, animal bones, and other organic remains. Capriles said:

 The archaeological team conducted its study on three forest islands — Isla del Tesoro, La Chacra and San Pablo — within the seasonally flooded savanna of the Llanos de Moxos in northern Bolivia. (Image: Jose Capriles)


The archaeological team conducted its study on three forest islands — Isla del Tesoro, La Chacra and San Pablo — within the seasonally flooded savanna of the Llanos de Moxos in northern Bolivia. (Image: Jose Capriles)

Because the human bones were fossilized, the team was unable to date them directly using radiocarbon dating. Instead, they used radiocarbon dating of associated charcoal and shell as a proxy for estimating the time range that the sites were occupied.

According to Capriles, a gap exists between the people his team studied who lived on the forest islands between 10,000 and 4,000 years ago and the rise of complex societies, which began around 2,500 years ago. Lombardo said:

Capriles added:

Provided by: Pennsylvania State University [Note: Materials may be edited for content and length.]

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