A grouping of granite blocks along a grassy Amazon hilltop may be the vestiges of a centuries-old astronomical observatory — a find that archaeologists say shows early rainforest inhabitants were more sophisticated than previously believed.The 127 blocks, some as high as 9 feet (2.75 meters) tall, are spaced at regular intervals around the hill, like a crown 100 feet (30 meters) in diameter. On the shortest day of the year — Dec. 21 — the shadow of one of the blocks disappears when the sun is directly aboveit."It is this block's alignment with the winter solstice that leads us to believe the site was once an astronomical observatory," said Mariana Petry Cabral, an archaeologist at the Amapa State Scientific and Technical Research Institute.
"We may be also looking at the remnants of a sophisticated culture."
have long known that local indigenous populations were acute observers
of the stars and sun. But the discovery of a physical structure that
appears to incorporate this knowledge suggests pre-Columbian Indians in
the Amazon rainforest may have been more sophisticated than previously
"Transforming this kind of
knowledge into a monument; the transformation of something ephemeral
into something concrete, could indicate the existence of a larger
population and of amore complex social organization," Cabral said.
May be 2,000 years old
Cabral has been studying
the site, near the village of Calcoene, just north of the equator in
Amapa state in far northern Brazil, since last year. She believes it
was once inhabited by the ancestors of the Palikur Indians, and while
the blocks have not yet been submitted to carbon dating, she says
pottery shards near the site indicate they predate Columbus' voyages
and may be much older — as much as 2,000 years old.
Last month, archaeologists
working on a hillside north of Lima, Peru, announced the discovery of
the oldest astronomical observatory in the Western Hemisphere — giant
stone carvings, apparently 4,200 years old, that align with sunrise and
sunset on Dec. 21.
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