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Edison Caetano

Geoglyphs Are Evidence of Ancient Farming in the Rainforest

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Edison Caetano

Our complicated relationship with the rainforest may be much older than we thought. Archaeologists writing in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences say the creators of ancient South American earthworks had also been farming and clearing the Amazon for millennia before Europeans arrived. The most striking evidence for this manipulation of the landscape? Hundreds of geoglyphs discovered across the region, revealed by deforestation.

For a long time, the rainforest appeared lush and undisturbed, and we assumed it had always been that way. Then during the last century, cattle ranchers began cutting down more and more trees to make room for their livestock. When the sawdust had settled, massive shapes could be seen carved into the soil. Archaeologists discovered more than 450 of the geoglyphs in Brazil’s Acre State alone.

Edison Caetano

Diego Gurgel

Edison Caetano

Lead author Jennifer Watling is an archaeologist at the University São Paulo. She said the glyphs’ discovery created quite a stir. “A lot of people have the idea that the Amazon forests are pristine forests,” she told The New York Times, “never touched by humans, and that’s obviously not the case.”

What was the case, then? To find out, Watling and her colleagues collected soil samples from two of the glyph sites. They sifted through the soil, picking out microscopic plant fossils and pieces of charcoal, then used carbon dating to approximate the age of each tiny bit of evidence.

They've been working on this research for a while; in the multilingual video below, from 2013, listen to the researchers explain some of their techniques.
 

 
The evidence told a story about the people who lived and worked in the forest around 4000 years ago. They had done some forest clearing of their own, burning sections of bamboo to open up space for farming. They likely grew maize or squash and collected food-bearing trees in one spot to create what Watling called a “prehistoric supermarket.” Once these forest farms were established, they began digging out the glyphs, which were likely used in religious rituals.

Unlike today’s industrial logging and clearing, the glyph-builders’ agriculture was sustainable in nature. Their farms and burn areas were small and contained, and permitted the surrounding wilderness and trees to keep on growing.

“Indigenous communities have actually transformed the ecosystem over a very long time,” said Watling. “The modern forest owes its biodiversity to the agroforestry practices that were happening during the time of the geoglyph builders.”

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Stones, Bones, and Wrecks
8 New Ancient Ships Found at the 'Shipwreck Capital of the World'
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The number of wrecks discovered at the "shipwreck capital of the world" continues to grow. According to Haaretz, the latest find adds eight new wreck discoveries, bringing the total up to 53 sunken ships in a 17-mile stretch off the coast of Fourni, Greece.

As Mental Floss reported, in 2015 archaeologists working off the coast of Fourni identified 22 shipwrecks dating back to 700 BCE—already an historic find. But additional dives conducted by the Hellenic Ministry of Culture and the RPM Nautical Foundation have continued to yield new discoveries. Nine months later, in June 2016, the Fourni Underwater survey turned up 23 more ancient, Medieval, and post-Medieval shipwrecks in the area with the help of local fishermen and sponge divers. The latest expedition took place in June 2017.

Divers inspect and survey an ancient amphora near the shipwreck site.

The Fourni archipelago, consisting of 13 tiny islands, never hosted a sizable town, but it was an important stopping point for shipping routes between the Black Sea, the Aegean Sea, and on to Cyprus, the Levant, and Egypt. The area may have been a hotspot for ships seeking safe harbor from violent storms in that part of the Aegean Sea, as Peter Campbell of the RPM Nautical Foundation told Haaretz. It wasn’t an entirely safe destination for merchant ships, though; it was also a pirate haven.

Some of the latest wrecks found include a ship from the Greek Classical Period—around 500 BCE to 320 BCE—carrying Greek amphorae (ceramic jars), a Roman ship with origins in the Iberian Peninsula, and anchors dating back to the Archaic Period (800 to 479 BCE). Researchers found more stone, lead, and iron anchors all the way up to the Byzantine Empire, which lasted until the 15th century.

Two conservationists sit at a table working with shards of ancient pottery.

The ancient trade routes that crisscrossed the Mediterranean (and the dangers of ancient seafaring) have made the area a fertile ground for millennia-old shipwrecks even outside of Fourni. As recently as 2016, divers off the coast of Israel stumbled upon a 1600-year-old merchant ship filled with Roman artifacts. In 2015, Italian divers discovered the wreck of a 2000-year-old ship carrying terra cotta tiles in deep waters near Sardinia.

The Fourni project is still ongoing, and researchers plan to conduct a fourth season of underwater surveying in 2018. Once the project completes a full survey and documentation of the area, the researchers may consider excavating some of the wrecks.

[h/t Haaretz]

All photos by Vasilis Mentogianis courtesy the RPM Nautical Foundation

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Jersey Heritage
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Stones, Bones, and Wrecks
Watch Conservationists Disassemble World's Largest Known Celtic Coin Hoard
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Jersey Heritage

Reg Mead and Richard Miles are proof that striking silver can be just as exciting as hitting gold—especially if the precious metal in question is a massive heap of ancient coins.

In the summer of 2012, the two amateur treasure hunters used metal detectors to discover the world’s largest-known Celtic coin hoard—now known as Catillon II—buried in a field on the Isle of Jersey in the British Channel Islands. The duo had spent more than 30 years searching for the rare stash, after a farmer’s wife (other accounts refer to her as a daughter) told them decades prior that her family had discovered silver coins while plowing a field.

Mead and Miles were granted limited access to the land, which they scoured after harvest season each year. Their persistence paid off when they finally found the treasure: nearly 70,000 Roman and Celtic coins, believed to date from around 30 to 50 BCE, along with some gold and silver jewelry, glass beads, a leather purse, and a woven silver-and-gold bag.

The Celtic coin hoard known as Catillon II
Jersey Heritage

The Celtic coin hoard known as Catillon II
Jersey Heritage

The Celtic coin hoard known as Catillon II
Jersey Heritage

The Celtic coin hoard known as Catillon II
Jersey Heritage

Long ago, members of a tribe called the Coriosolitae—who once lived in modern-day Brittany and Normandy in France—buried the wealth, presumably to hide it from the Romans.

The hoard was excavated by a team that was composed of members of local history and archaeology organizations Societe Jersiais and Jersey Heritage, along with staff from the Guernsey Museum, located on the island of Guernsey in the Channel Islands.

Removing the coin heap from the ground proved to be a challenge: "With earth still attached, it weighed over a ton," Neil Mahrer, a museum conservator with local historic trust Jersey Heritage, told Archaeology. "We had no idea how strong it was, in that it was only held together by the corrosion between the coins."

The Celtic coin hoard known as Catillon II
Jersey Heritage

The Celtic coin hoard known as Catillon II
Jersey Heritage

Once the treasure was finally unearthed, conservationists and volunteers spent around three years carefully extricating coins from the pile. The arduous project was completed in January 2017—and now, thanks to the magic of video editing, we can watch the entire process in only 30 seconds.

What happens next to the hoard is unclear. Such finds are protected by the Treasure Act.

[h/t Archaeology]

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