[Marxism] The Amazon rainforest a thousand years ago, not exactly "Edenic"

Louis Proyect lnp3 at panix.com
Thu Dec 15 07:10:13 MST 2016

A ‘Stonehenge,’ and a Mystery, in the Amazon

CALÇOENE, Brazil — As the foreman for a cattle ranch in the far reaches 
of the Brazilian Amazon, Lailson Camelo da Silva was razing trees to 
convert rain forest into pasture when he stumbled across a bizarre 
arrangement of towering granite blocks.

“I had no idea that I was discovering the Amazon’s own Stonehenge,” said 
Mr. da Silva, 65, on a scorching October day as he gazed at the 
archaeological site located just north of the Equator. “It makes me 
wonder: What other secrets about our past are still hidden in Brazil’s 

After conducting radiocarbon testing and carrying out measurements 
during the winter solstice, scholars in the field of archaeoastronomy 
determined that an indigenous culture arranged the megaliths into an 
astronomical observatory about 1,000 years ago, or five centuries before 
the European conquest of the Americas began.

Their findings, along with other archaeological discoveries in Brazil in 
recent years — including giant land carvings, remains of fortified 
settlements and even complex road networks — are upending earlier views 
of archaeologists who argued that the Amazon had been relatively 
untouched by humans except for small, nomadic tribes.

Instead, some scholars now assert that the world’s largest tropical rain 
forest was far less “Edenic” than previously imagined, and that the 
Amazon supported a population of as many as 10 million people before the 
epidemics and large-scale slaughter put into motion by European colonizers.



Given the charged relations between white societies and native peoples, 
inquiry into Indian culture and history is inevitably contentious. But 
the recent scholarship is especially controversial. To begin with, some 
researchers—many but not all from an older generation—deride the new 
theories as fantasies arising from an almost willful misinterpretation 
of data and a perverse kind of political correctness. "I have seen no 
evidence that large numbers of people ever lived in the Beni," says 
Betty J. Meggers, of the Smithsonian Institution. "Claiming otherwise is 
just wishful thinking." Similar criticisms apply to many of the new 
scholarly claims about Indians, according to Dean R. Snow, an 
anthropologist at Pennsylvania State University. The problem is that 
"you can make the meager evidence from the ethnohistorical record tell 
you anything you want," he says. "It's really easy to kid yourself."

More important are the implications of the new theories for today's 
ecological battles. Much of the environmental movement is animated, 
consciously or not, by what William Denevan, a geographer at the 
University of Wisconsin, calls, polemically, "the pristine myth"—the 
belief that the Americas in 1491 were an almost unmarked, even Edenic 
land, "untrammeled by man," in the words of the Wilderness Act of 1964, 
one of the nation's first and most important environmental laws. As the 
University of Wisconsin historian William Cronon has written, restoring 
this long-ago, putatively natural state is, in the view of 
environmentalists, a task that society is morally bound to undertake. 
Yet if the new view is correct and the work of humankind was pervasive, 
where does that leave efforts to restore nature?

full: http://www.theatlantic.com/magazine/archive/2002/03/1491/302445/

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