Category Archives: BRAZIL

Satellite Images Aided the Discovery of an Ancient Civilization Buried in the Amazon

Satellite Images Aided the Discovery of an Ancient Civilization Buried in the Amazon

Long before the arrival of Europeans in the Americas, one of the world’s largest rainforests teemed with people who transformed the woods around them, according to archaeologists who have found new evidence of farms, settlements and roads buried beneath the flora of Brazil’s Amazon Basin.

Satellite Images Aided the Discovery of an Ancient Civilization Buried in the Amazon
An aerial photo shows an earthwork located in the Upper Tapajos Basin of Mato Grosso Brazil.

A retiree poring over online satellite images led archaeologists to the ancient earthworks, the most recent in a series of finds made possible by satellite imagery, airborne radar, and drone-mounted cameras that are making ecologists and conservationists abandon longstanding notions of the Amazon as a virgin wilderness.

“It is all one type or another of the human-influenced forest,” said anthropologist Michael Heckenberger at the University of Florida in Gainesville, who wasn’t part of the new project. In the Amazon, “they were weaving their cities out of the forest itself.”

The findings include 81 pre-Columbian clusters of earthworks in the Upper Tapajos Basin, located along the southern rim of the Amazon in the Brazilian state of Mato Grosso.

Dating to 1250‒1500 A.D., the sites range from small ditched enclosures to large settlements with multiple mounds, plazas and causeways, the archaeologists said.

Francisco Nakahara, a retired financial manager in São Paulo who studies free online satellite photos as a hobby, first spotted the traces of circular earthworks, the researchers said. The archaeologists, who reported their findings in Nature Communications Tuesday, then catalogued the discoveries using Zoom Earth and Google Earth.

To verify the finds, the team surveyed and excavated 24 sites, unearthing potsherds and decorated ceramics. In surrounding fields, they found widespread evidence of distinctive dark enriched soil—a blend of charcoal and nutrients unlike normal Amazon earth—suggesting the land was used for intensive farming.

“It is likely that many of these sites were fortified settlements,” said archaeologist Jonas Gregorio de Souza at the U.K.’s University of Exeter, who was the lead author of the study. “These regions, once considered marginal, were probably very densely populated.”

At their height, the settlements may have been home to as many as one million people. Most of them likely succumbed to diseases brought by European explorers and slavers, while the forest reclaimed their homes, roads and plazas, the scientists said.

“Many parts of the Americas now thought of as pristine forest are really abandoned gardens,” said Colorado State University archaeologist Christopher Fisher, who uses aerial laser radar to explore sites in Central America covered by the forest canopy. “When you are on the ground, you cannot really see the landscape. You need a bird’s-eye view.”

A field archaeologist stands in a ditch that forms part of a large enclosure that once may have encircled a fortified village in the Upper Tapajos Basin.

Last year, researchers from Brazil, the U.K. and Canada led by Jennifer Watling at the Museum of Archaeology and Ethnography at the University of São Paulo announced their discovery of 455 huge earthworks spread across hundreds of thousands of acres in the nearby Brazilian state of Acre. They also date to pre-Columbian times.

Outlined by ditches up to 12 yards wide and 12 feet deep, these circular and square enclosures are known as geoglyphs were carved into the soil within woodlands that had been managed for thousands of years, the scientists said. Until exposed by modern deforestation, they had been concealed for centuries by the surrounding rainforest.

And in the headwaters of the Xingu River in the Amazon basin, Dr. Heckenberger and his colleagues discovered remains of broad highways and dozens of fortified pre-Columbian villages. The area between these urban centres had been cultivated or managed as parkland, he said.

Such ancient human disturbances still affect the forests today, altering patterns of growth and the mix of tree species. That in turn can make it difficult for climate scientists to judge how much carbon from greenhouse emissions can be absorbed by the Amazon rainforest every year.

“These forests may be much younger than we think they are,” said ecologist Crystal McMichael at the University of Amsterdam, who wasn’t involved in the latest research.

A bizarre chicken-sized dinosaur named lord of the spear is discovered in Brazil

A bizarre chicken-sized dinosaur named lord of the spear is discovered in Brazil

With a mane of yellow and brown fur down its back and long ‘needles’ growing from its shoulders, a peacock-like elaborate dinosaur has been identified. The neck spines of the creature are rare in the fossil record and made of keratin, which is the same protein that makes up parts of our hair, nails and skin. Dubbed Ubirajara jubatus, indigenous Indian for ‘Maned Lord of the Spear’

Experts led from the University of Portsmouth believe the flamboyant spines may have been used to impress prospective mates, and that the dinosaur may have indulged in ‘elaborate dancing’ to show them off.

The needle-like displays were positioned so they would not impede the dinosaur’s arms and legs — and would not have stopped it from hunting, preening or sending signals.

Ubirajara jubatus lived around 110 million years ago, during the Cretaceous period, the researchers explained. The new species was originally unearthed in 1995 in the Chapada do Araripe in north-eastern Brazil, and was found among the collections of the State Museum of Natural History in Karlsruhe, Germany.  The find could explain where birds like peacocks inherited their ability to show off, the team said. Birds are the modern descendants of dinosaurs. 

‘What is especially unusual about the beast is the presence of two very long, probably stiff ribbons on either side of its shoulders,’ said paper author and palaeontologist David Martill of the University of Portsmouth. These, he explained, ‘were probably used for display, for mate attraction, inter-male rivalry or to frighten off foes.’

‘We cannot prove the specimen is a male, but given the disparity between male and female birds, it appears likely the specimen was a male — and young, too, which is surprising given most complex display abilities are reserved for mature adult males.’

‘Given its flamboyance, we can imagine that the dinosaur may have indulged in elaborate dancing to show off its display structures.’

‘These are such extravagant features for such a small animal — and not at all what we would predict if we only had the skeleton preserved,’ said paper author and palaeontologist Robert Smyth, also of the University of Portsmouth.

‘Why adorn yourself in a way that makes you more obvious to both your prey and to potential predators?’ he mused. The truth is that for many animals, evolutionary success is about more than just surviving — you also have to look good if you want to pass your genes on to the next generation.’

‘Modern birds are famed for their elaborate plumage and displays that are used to attract mates — the peacock’s tail and male birds-of-paradise are textbook examples of this.’

‘Ubirajara shows us that this tendency to show off is not a uniquely avian characteristic, but something that birds inherited from their dinosaur ancestors.’

Experts led from Portsmouth found the new species — originally unearthed in 1995 — among the collections of the State Museum of Natural History in Karlsruhe. Pictured, the two slabs of the Ubirajara jubatus specimen, in photograph (top row) and illustration (bottom)
Dubbed Ubirajara jubatus — indigenous Indian for ‘Maned Lord of the Spear’ — the creature’s neck spines are unique in the fossil record and made of keratin. This is the very same protein that make up parts of our hair, nails and skin. Pictured, an illustration of Ubirajara jubatus skeleton, with the fur and spines highlighted in orange

The fossil specimen of Ubirajara jubatus sports a section of extremely-well preserved mane. Long and thick, this would have run down the animal’s back. The researchers believe that the mane would have been manipulated by muscles — allowing it to be lifted, much like a dog raises its hackles when it feels threatened.  Ubirajara would have been able to lower the mane flush to its skin when not putting on a display, allowing it to move fast without getting tangled in vegetation. 

Its arms were also covered in fur, the team noted.

‘Any creature with movable hair or feathers as a body coverage has a great advantage in streamlining the body contour for faster hunts or escapes but also to capture or release heat,’ explained Professor Martill.

‘We know lots of dinosaurs had bony crests, spines and frills that were probably used for display but we don’t see these very often in living birds,’ said Mr Smyth.

‘In birds, crests are made of feathers. This little dinosaur provides some insight into why this might be the case.’ Bone requires a lot of energy for a body to grow and maintain. It’s also heavy and can cause serious injury if broken,’ he continued.

Keratin — the material that makes up hair, feathers and scales — is a much better display alternative for a small animal like this one. Keratin is less costly for a body to produce, it’s also lightweight, flexible and can be regularly replaced if damaged.’

‘Ubirajara is the most primitive known dinosaur to possess integumentary [external] display structures. It represents a revolution in dinosaur communication, the effects of which we can still see today in living birds.’

The specimen was originally excavated by palaeontologist Eberhard Frey of the State Museum of Natural History Karlsruhe. It came out of the ground in two pieces. X-ray scans revealed previously hidden skeletal elements and soft tissue, from which the researchers were able to build a clearer picture of Ubirajara in life. Ubirajara jubatus is the first non-avian dinosaur to be discovered in a fossil-rich rock formation known to geologists as the Crato Formation.

At the time this was being deposited, the South Atlantic was opening up in a long narrow shallow sea, which accounts for the exquisite preservation of Ubirajara. The find is also important for the Americas, explained paper author and palaeontologist Hector Rivera Sylva, who curates the Desert Museum, in Mexico.

Ubirajara jubatus lived around 110 million years ago, during the Cretaceous period, the researchers explained. Pictured, a close up of the small dinosaur’s fossilised remains

‘The Ubirajara jubatus is not only important because of the integumentary structures present for the first time in a non-avian dinosaur — completely changing the way of seeing the behaviour of certain dinosaurs,’ he added.

Rather, the find provides ‘the first evidence for this group in Latin America, as well as one of the few reported for the subcontinent of Gondwana,’ he explained.

This, he added, expands our ‘knowledge about non-avian feathered dinosaurs [in] America, whose evidence is very scarce.’ The full findings of the study were published in the journal Cretaceous Research.

Lidar Reveals Network of Ancient Villages in Brazil’s Rainforest

Lidar Reveals Network of Ancient Villages in Brazil’s Rainforest

Jose Iriarte and Mark Robinson of the University of Exeter and their multinational team of scientists explored Brazil’s southern Acre State with Lidar remote sensing equipment, according to a statement issued by the University of Exeter, and revealed a sequence of more than 35 villages dating from A.D. 1300 to 1700 in the thick vegetation of the Amazon.

This is further evidence the rainforest has long-been occupied by indigenous communities, whose cultures rose, fell, transformed, and rose again, long before Europeans made an impact in the Americas.

The research shows after the abandonment of the large geometrically patterned ceremonial earthworks, around AD 950, a new culture arose with communities living in mounded villages with highly defined concepts of social and architectural space.  

Lidar scanning the forest
Lidar scanning the forest.

The circular mound villages are connected across the wider landscape through paired sunken roads with high banks that radiate from the village circle like the marks of a clock or the rays of the sun.

The villages have both minor roads and principal roads, which were deeper and wider with higher banks. Most villages have paired cardinally orientated principal roads, two leaving in a northward direction and two leaving in a southward direction.

The survey reveals that the straight roads often connect one village to another, creating a network of communities over many kilometres.

Deforestation in the region had previously revealed the presence of large geoglyph earthworks on the landscape with archaeological research also documenting the presence of circular mound villages.

However, until now the extent of earthwork constructions, their architectural layouts, and their regional organisation remained hidden beneath the remaining dense tropical forest.

Experts from the UK and South America used a RIEGL VUX-1 UAV Lidar sensor integrated into an MD 500 helicopter to document architectural features below the forest canopy, revealing a more complex and spatially organised landscape than previously thought.

Lidar Reveals Network of Ancient Villages in Brazil’s Rainforest

Over 35 villages and dozens of roads were documented in the research with many more predicted to still be hidden below the unexplored jungle.

The villages were composed of 3 to 32 mounds arranged in a circle, the diameter of which ranged from 40 m to 153 m with the area enclosed by the central plaza ranging from ~0.12 to 1.8 ha.

The research was carried out by Jose Iriarte, and Mark Robinson from the University of Exeter; Jonas Gregorio de Souza from Universitat Pompeu Fabra; Antonia Damasceno and Franciele da Silva from the Instituto do Patrimônio Histórico e Artístico Nacional; Francisco Nakahara from the Federal University of Pará; Alceu Ranzi from the Federal University of Acre and Luiz Aragao from the Brazil National Institute for Space Research.

The findings are published in a paper in the Journal of Computer Applications in Archaeology and footage of Jose Iriarte and Ella Al-Shamahi locating the village on foot, can be seen on the programme Jungle Mystery: Lost Kingdoms of the Amazon on Channel 4 at 6.30 pm on 5th December.

Professor Iriarte said: “Lidar has allowed us to detect these villages, and their features such as roads, which wasn’t possible before because most are not visible within the best satellite data available. The technology helps to show diverse and complex construction history of this part of the Amazon.

“Lidar provides a new opportunity to locate and document earthen sites in forested parts of Amazonia characterized by dense vegetation. It can also document the smallest surficial earthen features in the recently opened pasture areas.”

A 9,000-year-old head with amputated hands laid over could be the oldest ritual beheading in the Americas

A 9,000-year-old head with amputated hands laid over could be the oldest ritual beheading in the Americas

The Amazon rain forest has long inspired gruesome stories of ritualistic violence from 19th-century tales of tribes searching for “trophy heads” to Hollywood films such as Mel Gibson’s Apocalypto.

But a much longer history than commonly believed can be portrayed of civilizations such as the Incas, Nazcas, and the Wari cultures making human sacrifices in South America may have a much longer tradition than previously thought.

Recent research, reported in PLOS One, records the discovery of a 9,000-year-old case of ritualized human decapitation that seems to be the oldest in the Americas by some margin.

Amputated hands had been laid over the face of the decapitated skull and arranged opposite each other

Execution or burial?

The researchers found the remains of the beheaded young man from a rock shelter in Lapa do Santo, East-Central Brazil. Quite astonishingly the decapitated remains date to between 9,100 and 9,400 years ago.

The decapitated skull was found with an amputated right hand laid over the left side of the face, with fingers pointing to the chin. It also had an amputated left hand laid over the right side of the face with fingers pointing to the forehead, making it highly ritualistic and extremely unusual.

Plastered skull from Jericho in the British Museum.

However, the process of extracting the body parts from the victim seems straight out of a horror movie. The man was decapitated by blows from a sharp instrument to the neck, but there was also evidence that the head was distorted and twisted in places, suggesting there was difficulty getting the head off the body.

Furthermore, the cuts left on the bones were signs that the flesh had been removed from the head prior to it being buried. However, there’s no evidence to suggest decapitation was the cause of death.

Discovered parts.

The decapitation is reminiscent of Neolithic skull cults from the Middle East, which often buried their deceased under the floors of their homes – sometimes with the skull removed, plastered, and painted.

The placement of the hands is also similar to partial coverage of facial gestures that we see in different cultural settings today (such as signs of tiredness, shock, horror, etc).

This ritualistic behavior may seem barbaric to us today but it is becoming clearer that during the Neolithic period decapitations, skull cults, and ancestor worship were an important cultural practice. Excavations of neolithic sites in the Middle East have uncovered ancestors that had their fleshed removed in a similar way before being buried in the houses of their relatives.

The rituals undoubtedly involved many of the community to honour their ancestors and may be similar to what has been discovered at Lapa do Santo.

Local but unusual man

The researchers also undertook a number of scientific analyses to find out more about the individual. One of these was to analyze the teeth for isotopes of strontium, which is taken up in the human body through food and water.

The analysis of the tooth enamel, which is formed during childhood can be compared to the isotope signatures in the local geology. This can tell whether or not the individual was related to the place they were buried.

The analysis showed that the man was clearly associated with his place of burial. This implies he was a local man who grew up in the area and not a captured trophy from a warring faction.

But perhaps most intriguingly, they took measurements of the skull and compared it to measurements of other skeletons, including ones excavated at the same site. In this case, the young man’s head was a little bit of an outlier on the overall size of the skull, being slightly larger. Did he look different from the other men? Was he somehow distinctive? The remarkable evidence from this site suggests he was unique to their community but living with them and perhaps chosen for this reason?

This forensic approach to understanding archaeological remains is now shedding light on how much information can be gleaned from these deposits and the value of careful and meticulous work.

More broadly, this is one of many revelations that are starting to appear regarding South American archaeology ranging from evidence of early extensive burning of the landscape 9,500 years ago, through to large-scale deforestation and the production of glyphs by pre-European culture.

It remains to be seen how many more discoveries like this will be made in the future but there is one clear message, losing your head in South America is not a new phenomenon!

Ancient Advanced City Found Hidden in the Amazon

Ancient Advanced City Found Hidden in the Amazon

It is the legend that drew legions of explorers and adventurers to their deaths: an ancient empire of citadels and treasure hidden deep in the Amazon jungle.

Spanish conquistadores ventured into the rainforest seeking fortune, followed over the centuries by others convinced they would find a lost civilization to rival the Aztecs and Incas.

Some seekers called it El Dorado, others the City of Z. But the jungle swallowed them and nothing was found, prompting the rest of the world to call it a myth. The Amazon was too inhospitable, said 20th-century scholars, to permit large human settlements.

Now, however, the doomed dreamers have been proved right: there was a great civilization. New satellite imagery and fly-overs have revealed more than 200 huge geometric earthworks carved in the upper Amazon basin near Brazil’s border with Bolivia.

An aerial picture of traces of earthworks built by a lost Amazonian civilization dating to 200AD. 

Spanning 155 miles, the circles, squares and other geometric shapes form a network of avenues, ditches, and enclosures built long before Christopher Columbus set foot in the new world. Some date to as early as 200 AD, others to 1283.

Scientists who have mapped the earthworks believe there may be another 2,000 structures beneath the jungle canopy, vestiges of vanished societies.

The structures, many of which have been revealed by the clearance of forest for agriculture, point to a “sophisticated pre-Columbian monument-building society”, says the journal Antiquity, which has published the research.

The article adds: “This hitherto unknown person constructed earthworks of precise geometric plan connected by straight orthogonal roads. The ‘geoglyph culture’ stretches over a region more than 250km across, and exploits both the floodplains and the uplands … we have so far seen no more than a tenth of it.”

The structures were created by a network of trenches about 36ft (nearly 11 meters) wide and several feet deep, lined by banks up to 3ft high. Some were ringed by low mounds containing ceramics, charcoal and stone tools. It is thought they were used for fortifications, homes, and ceremonies, and could have maintained a population of 60,000 – more people than in many medieval European cities.

The discoveries have demolished ideas that soils in the upper Amazon were too poor to support extensive agriculture, says Denise Schaan, a co-author of the study and anthropologist at the Federal University of Pará, in Belém, Brazil. She told National Geographic: “We found this picture is wrong. And there is a lot more to discover in these places, it’s never-ending. Every week we find new structures.”

Many of the mounds were symmetrical and slanted to the north, prompting theories that they had astronomical significance.

Researchers were especially surprised that earthworks in floodplains and uplands were of a similar style, suggesting they were all built by the same culture.

“In Amazonian archaeology, you always have this idea that you find different peoples in different ecosystems,” said Schaan. “So it was odd to have a culture that would take advantage of different ecosystems and expand over such a large region.”

The first geometric shapes were spotted in 1999 but it is only now, as satellite imagery and felling reveal sites, that the scale of the settlements is becoming clear. Some anthropologists say the feat, requiring sophisticated engineering, canals, and roads, rivals Egypt’s pyramids.

The findings follow separate discoveries further south, in the Xingu region, of interconnected villages known as “garden cities”. Dating between 800 and 1600, they included houses, moats, and palisades.

“These revelations are exploding our perceptions of what the Americas really looked liked before the arrival of Christopher Columbus,” said David Grann, author of The Lost City of Z, a book about an attempt in the 1920s to find signs of Amazonian civilizations. “The discoveries are challenging long-held assumptions about the Amazon as a Hobbesian place where only small primitive tribes could ever have existed, and about the limits the environment placed on the rise of early civilizations.”

They are also vindicating, said Grann, Percy Fawcett, the explorer who partly inspired Conan Doyle’s book The Lost World. Fawcett led an expedition to find the City of Z but the party vanished, bequeathing a mystery.

Many scientists saw the jungle as too harsh to sustain anything but small nomadic tribes. Now it seems the conquistadores who spoke of “cities that glistened in white” were telling the truth. They, however, probably also introduced the diseases that wiped out the native people, leaving the jungle to claim – and hide – all trace of their civilization.

hundreds of tunnels which date back at least 10000 years have been discovered in brazil

Hundreds of tunnels which date back at least 10,000 Years have been Discovered in Brazil

Research teams in South America have found many gigantic burrows that are so massive and neatly constructed that you’d be forgiven for thinking humans dug them as a passageway through the forest.

The structure was huge, and according to Jenner, it’s still the largest known palaeoburrow in the Amazon and is twice the size of the second-largest palaeburrow in Brazil.

They are much older than they seem, they are estimated to be at least 8,000 to 10,000 years old, and they can not be explained by any known geological process. But then there are the massive claw marks lining the walls and the ceilings

Throughout Brazil, you can find the iconic statue of Christ the Redeemer and the awe-inspiring mountains of Corcovado and Sugarloaf.   Travelers and adventurers will find in the country a magnificent slate of fauna like the giant anteater, many types of sloths, armadillos, otters, and even capybara in the country. However, Brazil has more than meets the eye. In fact, the country has its fair share of mysteries.

In 2010, geologist Amilcar Adamy from the Federal University of Rio Grande do Sul, found a giant hole a few miles north of the Bolivian border. Upon investigation, he realized that the hole could not have been naturally made. None of the caves Adamy explored looked like anything the tunnels featured, with their round passages and smooth floors.

The mysterious tunnels have since then been discovered by various experts around the country and have opened up an entirely new realm of possibilities for geological studies.

Geologist Heinrich Theodor Frank stumbled across the tunnels while driving on the national Novo Hamburgo Highway. While driving, a hole of around one meter in diameter caught his attention. The hole was located at a construction site, and after further investigation, Frank discovered that the hole led to a complex underground tunnel. The tunnel was about 70 centimeters high and a few meters in length, with what appeared to be strange scratches on the ceiling of its walls.

After further exploration, Frank realized that hundreds of similar tunnels existed all over Brazil. The state of Rondonia alone has a large complex of 600 meter-long tunnels. Not only that, but 2,000 burrows with similar characteristics have also been found. Not even the locals in the area knew about the origins of the tunnels. Further tests showed that the tunnels were not man-made in origin.

Urban legends point towards various “historical” and even supposed “mythological” origins of the mysterious tunnels. Some say the tunnels were created by Indians, Jesuits, slaves, or even revolutionaries. Others believe the tunnels are a giant anthill or were even made by bears. Very rare few points towards a great mythological serpent that may have used the tunnel as its home.

Regardless, geological evidence alone proves that the tunnels were not created by Brazilian natives. The Indians who lived in Brazil even before the Europeans arrived did not use iron, and therefore had no means of digging through the hard rocks around the tunnels.

According to Frank, there is no natural geological process known to man that can produce the features of the tunnels. These features include the circular or elliptical cross-sections that branch, rise, and fall around the area. The geographic distribution of the tunnels is another mystery to scientists. The tunnels were only found in the southern parts of Brazil – particularly in the states of Rio Grande do Sul and Santa Catarina. They don’t exist anywhere else.

The claw marks on the walls of the tunnels are also peculiar. Prehistoric animals such as giant armadillos or possibly mega-sloths are thought by many to be possible creators of such marks. The biggest burrows, with sizes of up to five feet in diameter, may have been dug by ground sloths that have adapted to the area’s environment and developed digging skills.

Giant armadillos, though shorter than sloths, may also have the skills necessary to dig these tunnels as well. The grooves along the ceiling may, in fact, be marks the animals have left whenever they pause or stop working. Unfortunately, there are no specific indications of these animals living in the country. Moreover, the sheer size of the tunnels cannot possibly be made by any “giant” armadillos or sloths – at least, ones that we know of.

The giant armadillo, the largest existing member of its family, weighs between 65 and 90 pounds and is native to South America. However, its burrows are about 16 inches in diameter, and only up to 20 feet long. If the tunnels’ five foot wide and 250-feet long burrows are in fact dug my animals, then it should be one extremely big creature – one that has not been discovered yet. However, it seems there is still another possibility.

Frank eventually sent photographs of the tunnels to Marcelo Rasteiro of the Brazilian Society of Speleology. He introduced the notion of “paleoburrows” excavated by living organisms in any geological age.

Examples of these organisms include worms in the Cambrian Era, mollusks in the Mesozoic Era, or rats in the Pleistocene. These are all organisms that have lived millions of years ago. Until the early 2000s, hardly any burrows attributed to extinct animals can be found in the scientific literature. In fact, it was only in 2015 that Adamy himself had the opportunity to extensively explore the mysterious tunnels.

If this paleoburrow theory is to be believed, then the tunnels in Brazil may have been created between 10,000 and 8,000 years ago. If this is the case, then the Rondonia tunnels Frank has discovered may be the first – and the largest – paleoburrow in the Amazon. These tunnels can actually be found all over the world, which adds even more depth to the mystery. Frank said similar caves could be found in countries such as Uruguay, Paraguay, Chile, Bolivia, and Argentina.

Until scientists can figure out who, what, or how these paleoburrows were made, they will remain an unfathomable enigma.

By gum! Scientists find new 110-million-year-old treasure

By gum! Scientists find new 110-million-year-old treasure

During the analysis, scientists from the University of Portsmouth, examining fossilized leaves of the Welwitschiophyllum plant found in the Crato Formation in Brazil, have discovered a remarkable new treasure- the first fossil plant gum on record- ‘Welwitschiophyllum.’

Researchers have noticed that thin amber-colored bands locked inside some of the fossilized leaves. The beautiful, amber-like material has been discovered in 110 million-year-old fossilized leaves.

Unlike amber, which is made from fossilized plant resin, this newly discovered material is made from fossilized plant gum.

The fossilized leaves belonging to the Welwitschiophyllum plant.

A wide variety of vascular plants produce fluid exudates e.g., resins and gums, with each group differing in chemical definitions.

Due to similarity in physical appearance, distinguishing exudates based on chemistry is vital; for example, gums and resins are visually similar, resulting in these terms being used interchangeably.

The study was conducted in collaboration between the University of Portsmouth, the University of Vienna (with amber expert Dr. Leyla Seyfullah), and the British Library (with FTIR (Fourier Transform Infrared Spectroscopy) specialist Dr. Paul Garside).

University of Portsmouth Ph.D. student Emily Roberts said, “This discovery overturns the basic assumption that plant gums cannot be preserved in the fossil record. It has opened our eyes to the fact that other plant chemicals may also be preserved—we can no longer make assumptions.

When we first tested the gum, I was astonished that we were confirming something that was thought to be impossible—it just goes to show that fossil plants can surprise us.”

According to the study, the Welwitschiophyllum plant is considered to be related to one of the oldest and most enigmatic plants in existence.

Remarkably, a considered relative of this plant is still growing today, Welwitschia is the sole survivor of this lineage and is now found only in the Namib Desert in Namibia and Southern Angola.

The fossil gum in a thin section of the fossilized leaf.

Co-author Professor David Martill, of the School of the Environmental Geography and Geosciences at the University of Portsmouth, said: “Emily has not only discovered something ground-breaking about plant gum but perhaps, even more, astonishing her findings confirm that the Welwitschia plant found in Africa today produces a gum similar to a plant growing 110 million years ago in Brazil.

Welwitschia is one of life’s survivors, thriving in one of the harshest environments on earth for over 120 million years.

This discovery is fascinating, especially when put into the context of these two continents of Africa and South America, being one during the Cretaceous period.”

Scientists suggest there is still much to be learned and that future work should focus on how this preserved gum has survived 110 million years.

People may have lived in Brazil more than 23,120 years ago

Humans Present at Brazil’s Santa Elina Rock Shelter 23,120 Years Ago, Confirms National Museum of Natural History in Paris

Exact Bone Dating by researchers in the Paris National Museum of Natural History. Details of the new date have been published in a paper in the scientific journal Antiquity of Cambridge University, where the research team places modern people far before the 20,000 years ago in the rock shelter of Santa Elina in Brazil.

Santa Elina rock shelter excavation site above left and sloth bone ornaments with drilled holes above right.

The rock shelter of Santa Elina in central Brazil contains remarkable rock art and confirmation of the first Americans ‘ lengthy occupation.

Humans Present at Brazil’s Santa Elina Rock Shelter 23,120 Years Ago, Confirms National Museum of Natural History in Paris

Occupation of the site is dated to several different periods, suggesting that groups of hunter-gatherers only dwelt at the site when climate favoured hunting in the region. The irregular periods of occupation spread across the Late Pleistocene and Late Holocene.

For many years now teams of archaeologists investigating ancient human occupations sites across Brazil have produced evidence of extremely early colonisation of this part of South America.

The earliest dates associated with Brazilian archaeological research are close to 60,000 years ago. However such extreme figures for colonisation remain highly controversial.

Excavations carried out at the Santa Elina rock shelter between 1984 and 2004 explored three sediment layers containing the remains of hearths, stone artefacts and bones associated with the extinct giant sloth species Glossotherium.

Several of the bony plates from the sloth skin had been converted into ornaments of some kind by the resident humans, the added notches and holes may have allowed these plates to be worn on the body.

Glossotherium, like other giant ground sloths, was a herbivore. It was 13 ft (4m) and weighed 2210 lbs. It would have been one of the largest herbivores in South America. This species became extinct around 12,000 years ago.

Scientists utilised three separate dating methods to investigate samples of charcoal, sediment and the sloth bones. The revealed dates securely place people at the Santa Elina site well over 23,120 years ago. Humans groups abandoned the site after a short period, but later groups utilised the rock shelter again between 10,120 to 2,000 years ago.

The new dates from Santa Elina further erode the consensus understanding that the first modern humans, known as the Clovis people, reached the Americas by walking across a land bridge between Northeast Asia and North America just 13,000 years ago.

In recent years a steady series of archaeological finds have caused a growing number of archaeologists to abandon the ‘Clovis first’ colonisation model.

The evidence of hunter-gatherers living in the Santa Elina rock shelter 23,120 years ago is highly problematic for scientists that still believe humans reached the Americas by walking into North America – the rock shelter is over 12,000 kilometres from the proposed entry site.

Not only is Santa Elina far from the earliest Clovis sites, but it is also over 2000km from the coast in a heavily forested region.

These facts call into question the way in which the American continent was colonised as it is logical to suspect that humans lived along the coastline long before making the arduous journey into the Brazilian interior 23,120 years ago.

A growing number of researchers suspect that the first settlers used canoes to colonise the Americas and perhaps drifted down the Pacific Coast in simple watercraft before heading inland.

Some South American sites once occupied by Stone Age people are closer to the Atlantic coast, raising the possibility of the first colonisation involving a movement of people from Africa.