Archaeology Magazine

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New Model Predicts Settlement Locations in Amazonian Rainforest

Wednesday, January 08, 2014

(Crystal McMichael)


MELBOURNE, FLORIDA—Paleoecologist Crystal McMichael of the Florida Institute of Technology has developed a model to predict where pre-Columbian people may have lived and farmed in the Amazonian rainforest. Poor soil quality had led archaeologists to believe that large-scale farming would have been impossible, but recent discoveries of earthworks and roads suggest that cities did exist. Areas of darker soil containing charcoal and pottery shards, known as terra preta, or “black earth,” suggest that pre-Columbian residents of the rainforest enriched the soil for farming themselves. McMichael and her team analyzed the location and environmental data from some 1,000 terra preta sites and concluded that the worked earth is most likely to be found in central and eastern Amazonia, on bluffs overlooking rivers near the coast. The new model could help researchers discover possible archaeological sites.