Brazils president has cut science funding while opening the region to loggers, miners and farmers putting priceless evidence of ancient cultures at risk
When archaeologists Eduardo Kazuo and Mrjorie Lima recently unearthed nine pre-Columbian funerary urns in Tauary a tiny community in Brazils Amazon rainforest their immediate reaction was a mix of pleasure and desperation.
The bulbous vessels containing human remains and writhing with anthropomorphic painted serpents and monkeys are the only ones of their kind to be excavated intact.
But the extraordinary find last year underlined the precarious situation of the small team at the Mamirau Institute for Sustainable Development which found them.
Reliant on international funding, they are the only archaeologists for 500km in every direction. We need students, researchers, money, said Kazuo. And now we have the government that we have
Recent findings are radically changing our understanding of the regions prehistory. New evidence suggests that pre-Columbian Amazonian civilisations were comparable in scale and complexity to better-known Andean and Mesoamerican cultures. They had populations numbering in the millions, living in interconnected, fortified villages. They left rock art, vast ceremonial earthworks, sprawling irrigation channels and causeways, but any stone buildings, described in fanciful accounts by conquistadors, have not survived. Perhaps even more intriguingly, a growing body of research suggests that much of the worlds largest rainforest was moulded by humans.
But archaeologists across the Amazon warn that progress is imperilled by the policies of Brazils nationalist president, Jair Bolsonaro. The field is facing dramatic funding cuts, while proposed legal changes on salvage archaeology will endanger priceless physical evidence.
And the mass displacement of indigenous communities resulting from Bolsonaros promises to turn the Amazon over to loggers, miners and farmers in the name of development risks destroying the local knowledge needed to reconstruct the Amazons past, and potentially safeguard its future.
Its a great time to be doing archaeology, but its threatened, said Eduardo Neves, a professor at the University of So Paulo (USP) and the doyen of modern Brazilian archaeology. Science and higher education in Brazil are under a major cloud The whole outlook is pretty bleak.