Amazonia Supported a Cosmopolitan Civilization
Today’s naked, spear-hunting tribes in the jungles of the Amazon live in the shadow of a complex society that once thrived there. By increasing their scope from the single site to the wider region, archaeologists from Florida and Brazil have discovered a cosmopolitan culture that left large earthworks and evidence of complex urban societies. Their work was published in Science.1
Charles C. Mann, commenting on the paper in the same issue of Science,2 describes some of the dozens of earthworks or “geoglyphs” that have come to light:
Shaped like circles, diamonds, hexagons, and interlocking rectangles, the geoglyphs are 100 to 350 meters in diameter and outlined by trenches 1 to 7 meters deep. Many are approached by broad earthen avenues, some of them 50 meters wide and up to a kilometer long. The geoglyphs “are as important as the Nazca lines,” Ranzi says, referring to the famed, mysterious figures outlined in stone on the Peruvian coast. But even though the Acre geoglyphs had been observed 20 years before, “nobody still knew anything about them.”
Archaeologists had focused on the impressive structures of the Inca, such as Machu Picchu, but for most of the 20th century, had believed the Amazonian rain forest was too harsh, and the soil too poor, to allow for sophisticated societies. That belief has been eroded by the emerging evidence of widespread transformation of the environment for urban culture. Mann continues:
The new findings show that the region was “a cosmopolitan crossroads” between the societies of the eastern Amazon and the Andes, of whom the most famous were the Inka, says Susanna Hecht, a geographer at the University of California, Los Angeles: “You have every language group in lowland South America represented there.” She adds, “It was a major cultural center–and it’s incredible that this is just coming out.”
The early Amazonians had extensive agriculture, growing crops on large raised mounds of soil. Tens or hundreds of thousands of people must have been involved in sustaining their systems. They built canals straight as an arrow for up to 7 km. They built causeways to adjust to annual floods. One researcher said that early evidence “shows a few key forest islands in control of a vast network of communication and interaction covering 550 square kilometers: as large as many early states.”
The function of some structures is not clear, but the implications are: till now, archaeologists had missed a major complex society that existed from about 1000 BC to the time of the conquistadors.
“The immediate response is that they were symbolic places,” says [Peter] Stahl [Binghamton University], “But that’s the old archaeological canard: If you can’t figure out the function of something, you say it was for ritual.”
The late arrival and ubiquity of the geoglyphs may indicate that some type of cultural movement swept over earlier social arrangements. “But whatever was there, these societies have been completely forgotten,” says anthropologist Guillermo Rioja, director of sustainable development and indigenous peoples for the Pando. “It’s only been 400 years since they vanished. Why does nobody here know anything about them? They were living here for such a long time, and nobody knows who they were.”
In a related news article,3 Mann discussed the work of Heckenberger et al that shows evidence of urban planning in the western Amazon basin. They found “garden cities” with well-planned road networks covering 30,000 square kilometers (an area the size of Belgium) dating from about 1250 AD. Rather than avoid wetlands, the early city planners built roads and causeways over them, that were “amazingly straight”. People could walk between the hamlets in just 15 minutes. There may have been 50,000 people enjoying the network of medium-sized garden cities.
Rioja added a comment that says more about educated archaeologists than their supposed primitive subjects: “The idea is that the tribes in the lowlands were living like animals in the wild,” Rioja says. “When you tell them that there were great, important civilizations here in the western Amazon, they don’t believe it. But it’s true.”
Two weeks earlier in Science,4 Asif A. Ghazanfar was reviewing a book by Daniel Lord Smail called On Deep History and the Brain. Smail’s book tries to bridge a gap between prehistory and recorded history, via neuroscience and evolutionary biology. In his review, Ghazanfar summarized the evolutionary perspective that replaced Genesis:
In essence, “prehistory” refers to the thousands of years before civilization, when history supposedly did not move. Historians came to such an idea through a mixture of ignorance and practicality. Into the 19th century, European historians turned to the Book of Genesis; later scholars, forced to reckon with deep geological time and evolution by natural selection, were more creative. The spirit of their arguments for ignoring deep history is reflected in a sentence Smail quotes from the historian Mott Green: “At some point a leap took place, a mutation, an explosion of creative power–the ‘discovery of mind,’ or the ‘birth of self-consciousness’–interposing a barrier between us and our previous brute, merely biological existence.”
Smail and Ghazanfar reject this notion that evolution switched from Darwinian to Lamarckian modes at the dawn of civilization. Smail’s thesis is that human history is like Hutton’s geology: a seamless process of directionless change: “humanity’s deep history has no particular beginning and is driving toward no particular end.” The neurophysiological changes and new brain-body states “have their roots in our primate and other vertebrate ancestors.” When we make faces, for instance, others pick up on the emotional meaning of our expressions, and social hierarchies emerge. None of this means evolution is heading somewhere, according to Smail:
These have deep phylogenetic roots. Although the neural responses may not have changed much across time, the means by, and contexts in, which dominance and submission are felt and exploited by people in a society are culturally specific. More generally (and without our being aware of it), emotional and physiological ups and downs are exploited in different ways in different cultures–for pleasure, for inflicting harm, etc.–through different associations. Smail dubs the varying forms of culturally specific instruments that drive brain-body responses “psychotropic mechanisms.” These include mood-altering practices, behaviors and institutions generated by human culture, foods like coffee and chocolate, our interactions with others through social hierarchies or religions, and self-stimulation through novels or roller coasters. Importantly, the exploitation of brain-body states by cultures is not intentional nor does it have a goal.
On Deep History and the Brain is a small book with big ideas: that human history is linked in deep time by the physiological mechanisms that we share with our vertebrate ancestors and that the historical “progress” and “acceleration” we detect are in fact directionless series of ongoing culturally specific experiments with psychotropic mechanisms.
Maybe this could be called the Starbucks theory of human evolution. Key to Smail’s thesis is a belief in “deep time” and Darwin’s unguided, purposeless sequence of random changes that, without purpose, led us from vertebrate quadruped to upright city planner. But how could he have any empirical evidence for this? By definition, it is “pre-history,” which is equivalent to “pre-observer.”
1. Heckenberger, Russell et al, “Pre-Columbian Urbanism, Anthropogenic Landscapes, and the Future of the Amazon,” Science, 29 August 2008: Vol. 321. no. 5893, pp. 1214-1217, DOI: 10.1126/science.1159769.
2. Charles C. Mann, “Archaeology: Ancient Earthmovers of the Amazon,” Science, 29 August 2008: Vol. 321. no. 5893, pp. 1148-1152, DOI: 10.1126/science.321.5893.1148.
3. Charles C. Mann, “The Western Amazon’s ‘Garden Cities’,” Science, 29 August 2008: Vol. 321. no. 5893, p. 1151, DOI: 10.1126/science.321.5893.1151.
4. Asif F. Ghazanfar, “Cultural Evolution: Briding the Gap,” Science, 15 August 2008: Vol. 321. no. 5891, p. 914, DOI: 10.1126/science.1162481.
Ask yourself if these findings fit a creation view of history better than an evolutionary view. Evolutionists would have us believe that modern humans, indistinguishable from us in brain capacity, stature and probably language, have been inhabiting our small globe for 100,000 years – maybe even 300,000 years. Yet in that vast stretch of time, multiple times the length of all recorded history, not one of them learned to ride a horse, build a city or use symbolic communication till some unknown mutation(s), without purpose or goal, switched on these capabilities full-blown, only a few thousand years ago. Furthermore, evolutionists would expect primitive, stone-age cultures to be on the way up toward European measures of intellectual fitness. At least, that’s how Darwin’s followers understood things in Victorian England and on the Continent (ideas now considered very incontinent).
Creationists, on the other hand, believe humans were created from the beginning with intelligence, abstract reasoning, aesthetics and language. Adam’s kids were already skilled at herding and farming, had a conscience, and an innate sense of their obligation to God. The next generation was already working metals making musical instruments. After the Flood, it wasn’t long before the rising population was building a tower to reach heaven.
Wherever humans have gone, they have managed to work the environment to their advantage. Some environments only permitted a subsistence economy, but no real empirical evidence suggests humans were stuck on hunting and gathering for tens of thousands of years.
Here in the New World, long before Columbus lay claim to it in the name of a European king and queen, urban civilization on an advanced scale had existed. Before the ancient Greeks had learned to stop fighting themselves long enough to invent the polis, people were taming Amazonia with large earthworks, building canals and causeways and farms that could sustain tens of thousands of people. They were communicating long distances with other cultures.
In the post-Babel account, the confusion of languages forced people to segregate and disperse. People began exploring the globe. They took their knowledge of technology and culture with them, adapting it to their particular tastes and environments. They took with them their innate mental abilities. This all happened not so very long ago. Consider that when European mountain men encountered Native Americans, many took squaws as wives – and had children. Why had not there been some Darwinian adaptive radiation and origin of species among populations over the epochs since they became geographically isolated? Why were they able to communicate with symbolic sign language quickly, and learn one another’s languages and ways? Why indeed. It’s because there is only one race – the human race – whose history is short, and has been recorded by ancestors skilled at abstract reasoning and language from the beginning. Eons of grunting “prehistory” between different mythical species of humans exist only in the imaginations of Darwinists.
The emigrants who arrived in today’s Brazil before 1000 BC rose to the challenge of their new home and figured out what to do. We see evidence of their solutions. Before long they were building urban centers, cooperating on building projects, inventing techniques to tame the land for their use, and communicating across many miles. It all fits human nature as we know it.
The head-hunting cannibals encountered by 19th- and 20th-century Darwinists were not slower-evolvers outdistanced by proud Europeans. It appears more likely they are degenerate relics of once advanced societies. The knowledge of the true God had become corrupted over the generations. Power-hungry kings and shamans learned how to exploit myth and superstition to keep people under control, such as the grotesque human sacrifice and ethnic cleansing extolled among the Inca (07/10/2007). Even so, a deep inner sense of the Almighty One, above all the invented gods, remained. Missionaries have encountered this on many occasions (read Eternity in Their Hearts by Don Richardson). Intelligent, capable humans with a fallen spiritual nature: this is what the Bible predicts, and this is what we find.
The sense of surprise among the archaeologists at this new evidence is instructive (see also last month’s surprise discovery about a Sahara society). Evolutionists maintain their mythology in spite of the evidence. Every objective measure shows that mankind has always been Homo sapiens sapiens throughout its short tenure on this planet. “They don’t believe it, but it’s true.”