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Complex human–environmental processes form identifiable, lasting features on the landscape that can illuminate past human behavior and human–environment interactions. We examine the anthropogenic landscape of the ancient port of Macurany, located along the middle Amazon River in Parintins, Brazil, and identify four classes of anthropogenic landscape features at the site: wharfs, middens, terra preta (dark or black earths), and cultural forests. Middens, terra preta, and cultural forests have been found at archaeological sites in regions surrounding Macurany, but wharfs have not previously been reported in Amazonian contexts predating European contact. Taken together, these features are clearly the result of anthropogenesis and represent a range of subsistence, settlement, and infrastructure-building activities pointing to an ancient society that was actively engaged in modifying the surrounding landscape for purposes beyond settlement and subsistence. Evidence for a permanent, extensive, continuously settled society practicing intensive landscape engineering in this region of Amazonia reinforces findings of dense habitation, infrastructure, and early urbanization in Amazonia prior to European contact. This research helps expand our understanding of human–environment interactions, landscape formation processes, and settlement organization in ancient Amazonia.
Increasingly, archaeological research in Amazonia is revealing complex precolonial occupation in areas around riverine confluences. In 2014, the first site-based archaeological investigations were undertaken in Gurupá, Pará, Brazil, a municipality that spans the region of the Xingu-Amazon confluence. The Portuguese controlled access to Amazonia from 1623 onward through a network of settlements organized around Gurupá. Results from extensive excavations of terra preta sites, landscape archaeology, and analysis of ceramic evidence suggest that this was also a precolonial crossroads. Carrazedo, once a booming historical town (Arapijó), sits atop a significantly larger terra preta site. Excavations in historical and precolonial sectors of Carrazedo found well-preserved remains, including a precolonial house terrace complex. The extent of terra preta and earthworks at Carrazedo indicate that the precolonial occupation was more intensive than the colonial-historical period occupation. Regional survey revealed colonial-historical period sites consistently overlying expansive precolonial sites, the density and extent of which suggest a major precolonial center at the Xingu-Amazon confluence. Overall, ecological and landscape modifications appear to have been more intense in the precolonial past than during later periods. Short- and long-distance settlement networks also differed during the two periods. This as-of-yet understudied region promises to shed new light on deep-time human-environment interactions and spatial organization in the humid tropics of Amazonia.
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