It has always been thought of as an impregnable jungle fortress that kept its animal safe by keeping humans out. But it turns out the dense jungles of the Amazon in Brazil have been hiding a much better story - thousands of years of humans of settlement that seem to have passed in co-existence.
Researchers have confirmed human habitations in 81 places in the heart of the densest jungles on the planet. Some of these settlements in the Tapajos Basin were only 30 meters wide while some sprawled across 19 hectares.
The settlements were first found in satellite imagery. Teams of researchers then trudged into the dense jungles to physically verify that they were indeed the result of human activity. And they found ditches, earthen platforms for houses to stand on, polished stone axes and ceramics.
Needless to say, the researchers were thrilled with their findings. And one of the key reasons is that such sites can offer a rare insight into human behaviour in South America before the arrival of the conquering and plundering Europeans.
"The idea that the Amazon was a pristine forest, untouched by humans, home to scattered nomadic populations … we already knew that was not true," said Jonas Gregorio de Souza who lead the team from UK's University of Exeter that conducted the search. "The big debate is how populations were distributed in pre-Columbian times in the Amazon."
The findings also present a departure from the previously held incorrect notions that human populations in the region did not stick only to the banks of the large rivers, but also spread out along the smaller streams and water bodies, away from the rivers and deeper and deeper in the jungles.
And in happy twist, the researchers concluded that the humans who lived at these sites may not have caused much damage to the surroundings. "The idea was that in the areas that are located further away from the main rivers, populations maybe were actually smaller and they had a negligible impact on the environment," said Souza.