Researchers Uncover Purpose of Mysterious Amazonian Geoglyphs

by johnsmith

Geometrical earthworks found in the Amazon rainforest — dubbed the Geoglyphs of Acre — were once important ritual communication spaces, says a duo of researchers from the São Paulo University in Brazil and the University of Helsinki in Finland.

Sa and Seu Chiquinho sites featuring circular, square, and U-shaped earthworks. Image credit: Sanna Saunaluoma.

Sa and Seu Chiquinho sites featuring circular, square, and U-shaped earthworks. Image credit: Sanna Saunaluoma.

The Geoglyphs of Acre are more than 450 mysterious earthworks located in the Brazilian state of Acre.

They form geometric patterns, such as squares, circles, U-forms, ellipses and octagons, and can be up to 13 feet (4 m) deep.

Scientists believe the geoglyphs were created by Amazonian indigenous tribes between 1000 BC and 1000 CE.

Contemporary indigenous peoples of Acre still protect the earthwork sites as sacred places and, unlike other Brazilian residents in the area, avoid using the sites for mundane activities, such as housing or agriculture, and therefore protect these peculiar ancient remains in their own way.

“These sites were once important ritual spaces where, through the geometric designs, certain members of the community communicated with various beings of the environment, such as ancestor spirits, animals, and celestial bodies,” said São Paulo University postdoctoral researcher Dr. Sanna Saunaluoma and University of Helsinki researcher Dr. Pirjo Kristiina Virtanen.

“Thus people were constantly reminded that human life was intertwined with the environment and previous generations.”

“People did not distinguish themselves from nature, but non-humans enabled and produced life.”

The geoglyphs were especially used by the experts of that era, who specialized in the interaction with the non-human beings.

“The sites were important for members of the community at certain stages of life, and the various geometric patterns acted as ‘doors’ and ‘paths’ to gain the knowledge and strength of the different beings of the environment,” the researchers said.

“Visualization and active interactions with nonhuman beings were constructive for these communities.”

“The geometric patterns inspired by characteristics and skin patterns of animals still materialize the thinking of indigenous people of Amazonia and are also present in their modern pottery, fabrics, jewelry, and arts,” they added.

“As the theories of Amerindian visual art also show, geometric patterns can provide people with desired qualities and abilities, such as fertility, resistance, knowledge, and power.”

The paper reporting this work has been accepted for publication in the journal American Anthropologist and is available online.


Pirjo Kristiina Virtanen & Sanna Saunaluoma. Visualization and Movement as Configurations of Human-Nonhuman Engagements: Precolonial Geometric Earthwork Landscapes of the Upper Purus, Brazil. American Anthropologist, published online August 23, 2017; doi: 10.1111/aman.12923

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