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For centuries, historians and scholars believed the Amazon was a pristine and untouched forest, a wild jungle that no man could tame. But that narrative is slowly changing thanks, in part, to archeologists.

A steadily accumulating body of research now shows that millions of people once lived in the Amazon, and they didn’t just make a home in the forest, but actually transformed it to suit their daily needs. Archeologists have found evidence of carefully tended gardens and fertile soils near sites of ancient settlements. Walk around the jungle today, and you can still see the fingerprints of these civilizations all around.

These ancient civilizations thrived without destroying the environment, and archeologists say this discovery could provide valuable lessons in how to help save the Amazon today, for now more than ever, the rainforest is in a precarious position.

Nearly 60% of the forest is tucked inside Brazil, and the country’s new president Jair Bolsonaro has been vocal about lifting protections. In a major step at the start of his presidency, he issued an executive order that transfers the regulation and certification of new indigenous lands as protected areas to the ministry of agriculture. The department is known for championing the interests of industries that would speed up deforestation.

Quartz News traveled deep into the Amazon rainforest with archeologists to learn more about these fascinating ancient civilizations.

Quartz News is a weekly video series bringing you in-depth reporting from around the world. Each episode investigates one story, breaking down the often unseen economic and technological forces shaping our future.

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