Stonehenge, the ancient rock cairn in Wiltshire, England, is one of the most famous archaeological sites in the world. But did you know that it has a New World analogue?
The henge was not discovered by some intrepid archaeologist in a pith helmet. It was stumbled upon by a cattle rancher named Lailson Camelo da Silva in 1990. Da Silva was cutting down trees at the edge of the rain forest to clear out pasture land when he encountered huge blocks made of hewn granite.
“I had no idea that I was discovering the Amazon’s own Stonehenge,” he said. “It makes me wonder: What other secrets about our past are still hidden in Brazil’s jungles?”
Archaeoastronomers believe that the henge was constructed roughly 1,000 years ago, as an observatory. The structures were built about five hundred years before Europeans began their conquests of the Americas.
The henge is one of a handful of significant Brazilian archaeological finds made recently. In fact, there has been such an abundance of ancient structures and artifacts unearthed that it is leading researchers to challenge their previously held view that the area was sparsely or not-at-all colonized by humans in ancient times. Some have theorized that the Amazon may have supported as many as ten million indigenous peoples before the European massacres began.
The henge is found in the Rego Grande area of the Amazon. It is protected by public money and a team of archaeologists have been studying the ruins for about a decade now. The researchers have also identified a quarry two miles from the henge where they believe the rocks were taken from.
The working thesis is that the Rego Grande site was used by indigenous peoples for astronomical purposes associated with farming and hunting. Some archaeologists still believe, however, that the ruin’s true purpose is not yet known for certain.
Jarita Holbrook, from the University of the Western Cape in South Africa, thinks that more data need to be collected before a verdict can be rendered. “We’ve seen a lot of similar claims, but it takes more than a circle of standing stones to get to a Stonehenge.”
Archaeologists are, in general, moving away from the tendency to construe any henge-like site as necessarily astronomical in function. It very well may have played a largely or entirely ceremonial purpose to the culture(s) that built it. For now, it remains a fascinating South American mystery.