In DepthArchaeology

‘Green hell’ has long been home for humans

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Science  21 Oct 2016:
Vol. 354, Issue 6310, pp. 268-269
DOI: 10.1126/science.354.6310.268

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For centuries, tropical rainforests were seen as the very definition of wilderness, largely untouched by humans. As late as the 1970s, anthropologists described rainforests as a "counterfeit paradise," arguing that their soil lacked the nutrients to sustain agriculture or complex human societies. It's now becoming clear, however, that human ancestors not only lived in the rainforest but transformed it over tens of thousands of years. Archaeologists have found clever ways to uncover ancient humans' impact on today's jungles, from ancient collagen in bones to laser scanning by aircraft. At a recent conference on the topic, organized by the Max Planck Institute for the Science of Human History in Jena, Germany, presentation after presentation highlighted how prehistoric people burned the forest, cleared it, farmed it, nurtured certain of its tree species, and even built cities in it, leaving lasting, if subtle, marks.

  • * Jena, Germany