Amazon’s Oldest Human Burials Found in Bolivia

Human burials exposed and recovered during the archaeological excavations at the forest island of La Chacra during excavations. (José Capriles / PSU)

Archaeologists Discover Some of the Amazon’s Oldest Human Burials

by Megan Gannon

With a name like “Treasure Island,” Bolivia’s Isla del Tesoro isn’t what you’d expect.

First, the island isn’t really an island at all, but a landlocked, forested mound about a quarter of the area of a football field that rises slightly from the tropical lowlands of the Bolivian Amazon. The place is only encircled by water when seasonal rains flood the surrounding savanna. And second, no buried gold or chests of jewels have been found there. Isla del Tesoro’s treasure is much more subtle.

Archaeologists and earth scientists have been investigating Isla del Tesoro over the last decade, and they’ve found a 10,600-year-old garbage dump filled with layers and layers of snail shells, animal bones and charcoal from campfires which have accumulated over several millennia. Now, the researchers have more direct evidence that the forest island was created by humans: the remains of a person who was buried intentionally at the site at least 6,300 years ago.

The grave is one of five human burials that were recently uncovered in the artificial forest islands of Bolivia’s Llanos de Mojos region, according to a study published today in Science Advances.

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