Scientists have found evidence discrediting the theory that the Amazon was virtually unlivable. Now researchers are being sent out to explore what seems to be a huge culture that once lived in the region now called the Amazon Forest.
It is now believed the lush forest was once home to an advanced, even magnificent civilization that cultivated the forest and enriched infertile soil to feed thousands, maybe more.
The group of experts from the University of Exeter in the UK have been awarded 1.7m-euro (£1.25m; $1.9m) to search for evidence of lost cultures in the rainforest from the European Research Council and will be using a drone to help aid them in their quest.
The new technology will aid researchers in identifying civilizations that exist under the vegetation in the Amazon rainforest. The team of experts will use the droid to find geoglyphs, which are large geometric patterns left in the ground by ancient civilizations.
Experts believe that 450 of these locations have been located in areas the forest has been cleared. They are often in perfect, or near perfect geometrical shapes.
No-one is really quite sure what these earthen circles, squares and lines represent. Perhaps, they were ceremonial centres. But what is certain is that they are evidence of collective behavior.
“It’s a hot debate right now in New World archaeology,” said Dr Jose Iriarte from Exeter University, UK.
“While some researchers think that Amazonia was inhabited by small bands of hunter-gatherers and shifting cultivators who had a minimal impact on the environment, and that the forest we see today is pristine and untouched for thousands of years – mounting evidence is showing this may not be the case.”
“This evidence suggests that Amazonia may have been inhabited by large, numerous, complex and hierarchical societies that had a major impact on the environment; what we call the ‘cultural parkland hypothesis’,” he told BBC News.
The process the drones will use was described by the BBC as following:
Dr Iriarte’s project will fly its robotic plane across sample areas of forest.
This vehicle’s lidar instrument should reveal how many more geoglyphs remain hidden beneath still-canopied regions of Amazonia.
While some of the light from the lidar scatters back off the leaves, some is able to penetrate to the ground.
A smart algorithm can then be used to separate the two signals, digitally removing the trees to expose anything unusual beneath.
If candidate geoglyphs are confirmed in follow-up inspections, scientists would then move in to characterise signature changes that have been left in the soils and vegetation by the ancient inhabitants.
These “fingerprints” could then be searched for in satellite images, enabling a much broader swathe of Amazonia to be probed than is possible with just a small unmanned aerial vehicle. The arguments over the scale of occupation and its impacts should then be settled.