According to recent reports, 9,000 fires are raging in the Amazon rainforest. Many people have described the situation as a crisis and believe the area may soon be destroyed. While the fires are a problem, this is not the first time the rainforest has faced these conditions. Despite headlines declaring a record number of blazes, the number of fires is not actually much higher than the average. Beyond that, according to recent research, the rainforest is not as ancient as people believe.
Brazilian President Jair Bolsonaro has responded to this crisis by announcing the deployment of military forces to combat the fires.
A Pattern of Fires
Despite the recent claims that there 2019 has seen the greatest number of fires in the Amazon, the current amount is not much higher than the average. In 2005 there were a similar amount of fires in the Brazilian rainforest.
Most people accept that the tropical rainforests are ancient, perhaps millions of years old. While that may be true for some areas, it is not the case for the Amazon. Fires and deforestation have uncovered signs of human settlement that were previously covered by vegetation. These ancient traces of humanity show that, only a few thousand years ago, humans lived in deforested areas that have since regrown. This surprising fact may explain why so many of the plants found in the jungle are species found in gardening and farming. At one time, the Amazon may have been a giant garden.
Recently, scientists have used a type of laser technology (LiDAR) to “see” beneath the canopy of the jungle in Guatemala. Using this process, they have uncovered large, ancient Mayan cities. A similar LiDAR study has not yet been performed in the Amazon, but a team of scientists found that between 500,000 and 1,000,000 people lived in an area covering only 7% of the Amazon basin. That means the tropical region could have been home to millions of people in the past. An archaeologist who co-authored the study, José Iriarte, said that “we need to re-evaluate the history of the Amazon.”