Saturday, January 09, 2010

Neener, neener, neener...or, another archaeological paradigm bites the dust...

I have to say that this news made me do a little happy dance, sitting here in my office chair.

Sphere is reporting that the British archaeological journal Antiquity has published a paper outlining evidence showing that a large-scale, monument-building pre-Columbian civilization did indeed exist in the Amazon basin, possibly dating back to around AD 800. This directly contradicts the prevailing paradigm that the Amazon basin was never capable of supporting more than small bands of people and certainly not a settlement that housed upwards of 60,000 people, which is what the authors of the Antiquity paper claim, adding that they have so far uncovered only around 10 percent of the existing remains of the city.

The find vindicates the beliefs of Percy Fawcett, a British explorer who vanished in the area of the find in 1925, along with one of his sons and another gentleman while searching for the remains of the "lost city" he thought he had evidence for.

Last year, I read The Lost City of Z: A Tale of Deadly Obsession in the Amazon, by David Grann, which tells about Fawcett's obsession, the obsession of later explorers to find out what happened to the disappeared Englishman and his party, and the search by a few archaeologists to overturn the reigning paradigm and find evidence that the Amazon was, indeed, the home of a large-scale vanished civilization. The news of this new find only makes me more enthusiastic about my recommendation of this very good book, as well as of a book I reviewed in this blog back in 2007, 1491: New Revelations of the Americas Before Columbus, by Charles C. Mann, which also spent some time looking at the existing paradigm and newer ideas of who might have lived in the Amazon basin in the past and how large their settlements might have been.

If I haven't said it before, or haven't said it emphatically enough, go find Brann's book, and Mann's, and read them.

Unfortunately, part of this story is not good. The road to this new discovery was opened only because of extensive clear-cutting of the Amazon forest. Nothing is perfect, I suppose, but I really wish that these new remains could have been found without so much destruction having been done to the enviroment of the Amazon basin.