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Contours of the Past: LiDAR Data Expands the Limits of Late Pre-Columbian Human Settlement in the Santarém Region, Lower Amazon

Journal article
Authors Per Stenborg
Denise P. Schaan
Camila G. Figueiredo
Published in Journal of Field Archaeology
Volume 43
Issue 1
Pages 44-57
ISSN 0093-4690
Publication year 2018
Published at Department of Historical Studies
Pages 44-57
Language en
Keywords LiDAR, Amazonia, pre-columbian archaeology, Santarém, Amazonian dark earths (ADE), water management
Subject categories Remote sensing, Archaeology, Non-European


Recent studies have shown that pre-Columbian societies in the Amazon undertook significant landscape modifications, including earthworks. Our fieldwork has revealed that pre-Columbian settlements in the Santarém Region, Lower Amazon, were not limited to the vicinities of permanent water courses, as formerly often assumed. Instead, numerous archaeological sites, dating from ca. a.d. 1300 up to the time of European colonization in the seventeenth century, have been found in an upland area known as the Belterra Plateau, south of the present-day city of Santarém. These upland sites have been found to be associated with particular features in the landscape: cavities or depressions, known locally as “Poços de Água”. LiDAR data shows that a pattern of non-randomly distributed depressions extends far into the densely forested Tapajós National Forest (Flona-Tapajós), allowing us to suggest that the expansion of inland settlement extended considerably farther to the south than what has previously been established through conventional archaeological fieldwork.

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