The tropical rainforests of Brazil, once thought to be pristine habitats of noble savages, show evidence of mass reworking by humans for millennia.

They gained global attention in the 1950s: naked tribes living deep in the rainforests of the Amazon River basin. They murdered Christian missionaries, including Jim Elliott, who had come to share food, medicine, and the gospel. Civilized people around the world felt either revulsion or fascination with these people. Were they noble savages living in harmony with nature? Were they less-evolved members of Homo sapiens? Or were they degenerate children of once-mighty civilizations?

Conventional wisdom, exemplified by National Geographic, took the first view: they were misunderstood families of basically peaceful primitive humans who survived in a pristine world, living off the land with no need for clothes, permanent dwellings or western implements. How dare westerners intrude on their space with alien religious ideas! The missionaries were killed out of fear or misunderstanding, not out of western vices like hate or intolerance. Anthropologists, aghast at finding tribespeople with western clothes and iron pots, fought with developers pushing the remaining untouched people groups further into the jungle.

The Disney-style, Hiawatha, Jungle-book portrayal of Amazonia is starting to come crashing down. Discoveries of massive earthworks throughout the jungle are revealing an ecology modified by cooperative societies on a massive scale for centuries. Forerunners of today’s naturist monkey-hunters must have been sophisticated exemplars of intelligent design.

 

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