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Old 06-29-2006, 06:22 AM   #1
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Tropical Stonehenge Discovered

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Tropical Stonehenge Discovered

Associated Press

Sao Paulo, Brazil — A grouping of granite blocks along a grassy Amazon
hilltop may be the vestiges of a centuries-old astronomical observatory — a find
archeologists said indicates early rainforest inhabitants were more
sophisticated than previously believed.
The 127 blocks, some as high as three metres tall, are spaced at regular
intervals around the hill, like a crown 30 metres in diameter.
On the shortest day of the year — Dec. 21 — the shadow of one of the blocks
disappears when the sun is directly above it.

“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 archeologist at the Amapa State Scientific and Technical Research
Institute.
“We may be also looking at the remnants of a sophisticated culture.”
Anthropologists have long known 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 natives in the
Amazon rainforest may have been more sophisticated than previously suspected.
“Given that astronomical objects, stars, constellations etc., have a major
importance in much of Amazonian mythology and cosmology, it does not in any way
surprise me that such an observatory exists,” said Richard Callaghan, a
professor of geography, anthropology and archeology at the University of
Calgary.
Dr. Cabral added: “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 a more complex social
organization.”
She has been studying the site, near the village 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 tribe and while the
blocks have not yet been submitted to carbon dating, she said pottery shards
near the site indicate they are pre-Columbian and maybe older — as much as 2,000
years old.
Last month, archeologists 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 Dec. 21.
While the Inca, Mayans and Aztecs built large cities and huge rock
structures, pre-Columbian Amazon societies built smaller settlements of wood and clay
that quickly deteriorated in the hot, humid Amazon climate, disappearing
centuries ago, archeologists said.
Farmers and fishermen in the region around the Amazon site have long known
about it and the local news media have dubbed it the “tropical Stonehenge.”
Archeologists became involved last year, after geographers and geologists did a
socio-economic survey of the area, by foot and helicopter and noticed “the
unique circular structure on top of the hill,” Dr. Cabral said.
Scientists not involved in the discovery said it could prove valuable to
understanding pre-Columbian societies in the Amazon.
“No one has ever described something like this before. This is an extremely
novel find — a one-of-a-kind type of thing,” said Michael Heckenberger of the
University of Florida's Department of Anthropology.
He said that while carbon dating and further excavation must be carried out,
the find adds to a growing body of thought among archeologists that
prehistory in the Amazon region was more varied than had been believed.
Brazilian archeologists will return in August, when the rainy season ends, to
carry out carbon dating and further excavations.
“The traditional image is that some time thousands of years ago, small groups
of tropical forest horticulturists arrived in the area and they never
changed — (that) what we see today is just like it was 3,000 years ago,” Dr.
Heckenberger said.
“This is one more thing that suggests that through the past thousands of
years, societies have changed quite a lot.”
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