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South America’s unknown ancient path


Most of the forest hike, like the broader state-wide route, is symbolic – an estimate at best of where the original route might have been, although there is more certainty on some stretches, especially where historical maps and archaeological sites exist. This region of south-west Brazil has been a hotbed of archaeological digs since the 1970s in the search for traces of the Caminho de Peabiru, as it was once dense with indigenous populations (estimated at around two million people, mainly Guaranis, at its peak in the 16th Century).

Like many others I’ve spoken to, Rocha is fixated on the mystery of the trail and even published his post-grad thesis on the subject. Historians, astronomers and archaeologists have also been puzzling over it for decades, piecing together old maps, colonial records and oral histories to try and understand the trail’s origins and purpose.

The general consensus is that the main route in the network connected the east and west coasts of South America: it began from three starting points on the coast of Brazil (in São Paulo, Paraná and Santa Catarina states) that joined up in Paraná, continued across Paraguay to silver-rich Potosí and Lake Titicaca in Bolivia, pressed on to Cusco (the capital of the Incan Empire) in Peru and then down to the Peruvian and northern Chilean coast.

“In broad terms, we can say that the path followed the movement of the setting and rising sun,” wrote Bond in her most recent e-book, História do Caminho de Peabiru, published last year.

In it, Bond analyses a number of plausible hypotheses about the origin of the trail, concluding that the network of paths was likely created and used by various indigenous groups over the centuries, but that its defining characteristic was a desire to connect the Atlantic and the Pacific. “It doesn’t matter how many and of which people built it, but that it was a road that in a certain moment was seen by the indigenous as a specific, homogenous path that represented on Earth the movement of the Sun in the sky,” she wrote.

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