It is now accepted that Amazonia has sheltered urban civilizations of a size comparable to that of medium-sized cities in Western Europe. In the 1990s, Dr. Hecklenberger revived the myth of the lost cities of the Amazon by studying archaeological sites in Upper Xingu, Brazil, including the famous X11: Kuhikugu (Dr. Hecklenberger, for science No. 388, 2010).
source : http://www.sciences-faits-histoires.com/blog/archeologie/bresil-kuhikugu-ou-site-x11-la-cite-z.html
Yet, Amazonia has long conveyed in the modern Western imagination the Eros of original, virgin and innocent nature in the struggle against the thanatos of destructive modernity. The tribes, unlike other South or Mesoamerican civilizations, did not leave any permanent buildings there. They have long been reduced to primitive hunter-gatherer peoples living in the Stone Age and contenting themselves with what nature would give them. In 1982, Pierre Gourou, in his book « Terres de bonne espérance », contrasted the high densities of the Mekong Delta with those of the Orinoco basin. He justified this by the absence or mastery of « supervisory techniques ». How can we conceive of past Amazonian civilizations that are different from those of today? This vision will gradually change from the 1970s onwards. The researchers then rediscovered the writings of the first explorers. Michael Heckenberger cites the accounts of Gaspar de Carvajal, who wrote in 1542, that from these Amazonian islands, which he thought were uninhabited, emerged « more than 200 pirogues, each of them carrying 20 to 30 Indians and some 40 ». Almost two centuries later, the Brazilian Antonio Pires de Campos ventured near Rio Tapajos, west of Xingu, and also mentioned many villages well connected to each other by wide roads. These remarks will be corroborated by R. Carneiro and especially by M. Heckenberger, « The upper Xingu is the only area of the Brazilian Amazon that clearly shows continuity of indigenous occupation from prehistoric times to the present day. By 1400 AD, if not before, the prehistoric villages had reached impressive proportions (20 to 50 hectares). This makes them amongst the largest in any lowland South American area in prehistoric times. They comprised a variety of structures including linear causeways along the margins of the main paths, central patios and deep ditches. These would doubtless have been accompanied by above ground structures such as palisades, bridges and entry gates. It is estimated that such villages could house around a thousand people and that more than ten thousand Indians probably lived to the west of the Culuene river in the upper Xingu region ». ( see the website « povos indigenas brasil »). Heckenberger will map with the precision of a surveyor wide and deep ditches and wide roads such as existing highways, palisades protecting villages, territories exploited more or less intensively, numerous villages linked together by a very sophisticated road network. It then becomes aware of a high degree of regional integration. The occupied spaces were organized over nearly 250 km², 50 km² of which were for urban areas stricto sensu. More recently, excavations conducted by Jonas Gregorio de Souza’s Anglo-Brazilian team will highlight a continuum of interconnected cities ofrawak civilization over more than 400,000 km². « At the same time, regions such as southwestern Amazonia were home to one of the highest diversities of language families within Amazonia, and the multi-ethnic/multilinguistic nature of regional systems is exempt by the Upper Xingu34. The belt of Arawak and other groups along the SRA has been hypothesized to constitute a formative supra-regional system that was present from late PreColumbian times. If true, this connection would suggest an uninterrupted distribution of earthworks along 1800 km east-west in the SRA and a more intense Pre-Columbian human impact in the forests of this region than previously postulated » Pre-Columbian earth-builders settled along the entire southern rim of the Amazon
The myth of the pristine primary forest has been destroyed. It is indeed a whole vision established on the impossibility for Amazonian civilizations to develop complex exchanges between them and to intensively cultivate a lateritic and sterile Amazonian terroir that flies in pieces. Will those who have at best been considered « good savages » now be models for saving the planet, if there is still time?
Hecklenberger compares the cities in Upper Xingu with garden cities that may well be the most appropriate model for reconciling sustainable urbanization and biodiversity protection. But Indian reserves appear to be very fragile ramparts against Amazonian deforestation, GMO soya and extensive pastures.
(This text is largely based on Mr. Hecklenb’s article of the journal Pour la science n°388, 2010)