What the Amazon Looked Like Before Columbus
Ancient people had minimal, if any, impact on the outlying forests of South America’s Amazon Basin, and settlements near rivers were likely limited, indicates a new study of soil collected from the western and central Amazon. Previous research has suggested that, prior to the arrival of Christopher Columbus and Europeans, indigenous people built dense, complex settlements in eastern Amazonia and near some riverbanks in central Amazonia. And it is believed that human changes to the landscape, such as removing forests and planting crops, contributed to the incredible diversity of living things found in this region.
The new research, however, indicates ancient humans’ impacts were quite limited, particularly in the outlying forests of western Amazonia. Evidence of fire and agriculture suggests people lived in small groups, leaving little mark on the landscape, except for some larger settlements near rivers.