Mysterious Stonehenge-like earthworks discovered in Amazon rainforest

Stonehenge apparently has company.

Scientists from Brazil and England used a new invention in the Amazon rainforest to discover hundreds of mysterious ancient earthworks that resemble those at Stonehenge in the U.K. They were said to have been built about 2,000 years ago.

Flying a drone over deforested areas of the Amazon rainforest in Acre in western Brazil, scientists discovered 450 earthworks that feature the same Stonehenge-like circular ditched enclosures that had been previously covered by trees, The Telegraph and Phys.org reported.

"The findings prove for the first time that prehistoric settlers in Brazil cleared large wooded areas to create huge enclosures meaning that the ‘pristine’ rainforest celebrated by ecologists is actually relatively new," The Telegraph wrote.

Jennifer Watling, a post-doctoral researcher at the Museum of Archaeology and Ethnography at the University of Sao Paulo, led the research while studying for a PhD at the University of Exeter last year. The results were just published in the journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.

"The fact that these sites lay hidden for centuries beneath mature rainforest really challenges the idea that Amazonian forests are 'pristine ecosystems,'” Watling told The Telegraph.

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Although the function of the sites is unknown Dr Watling said they resembled Neolithic causewayed enclosures found at sites such as Stonehenge in Wiltshire, although they appear to be more regular.

“It is likely that the geoglyphs were used for similar functions to the Neolithic causewayed enclosures, i.e. public gathering, ritual sites,” said Dr Watling.

“It is interesting to note that the format of the geoglyphs, with an outer ditch and inner wall enclosure, are what classically [are described as] henge sites. The earliest phases at Stonhenge consisted of a similarly laid-out enclosure.”

Although Stonehenge is around 2,500 years older than the geoglyphs found in Brazil, they are likely to represent a similar period in social development.

The enclosures are unlikely to represent the border of villages, since archaeologists have recovered very few artifacts during excavation. It is thought they were used only sporadically, perhaps as ritual gathering places, as they have no defensive features such as postholes for fences.

This discovery, which was spread out of over 5,000 square miles, apparently differs from other geoglyphs previously found in Amazon rainforests since 1977.

Other evidence of the rainforests not being pristine ecosystems was presented by the BBC, which claimed they were shaped by man for at least 11,000 years through forest gardening and soil management.

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“Despite the huge number and density of geoglyph sites in the region, we can be certain that Acre’s forests were never cleared as extensively, or for as long, as they have been in recent years," Watling told Phys.org.

“Our evidence that Amazonian forests have been managed by indigenous peoples long before European Contact should not be cited as justification for the destructive, unsustainable land-use practiced today. It should instead serve to highlight the ingenuity of past subsistence regimes that did not lead to forest degradation, and the importance of indigenous knowledge for finding more sustainable land-use alternatives.”