The pre-Columbian indigenous population estimates of the Amazon Basin lowlands are highly uncertain and the subject of considerable controversy. One of the archaeological sources used in reconstruction of Amazonian societies are Amazonian black earths (ABE) or in Portuguese, terra preta soils. The immense size of Amazonia, remoteness of many areas, forest vegetation, and lack of archaeological field surveys, make remote sensing beneficial to archaeological studies in this region. Remote sensing allows for comparison and analysis of vegetation across vast areas. Previous research has shown that hyperspectral image data can detect vegetation canopy chemistry differences, associated with soil nutrients and chemistry.
We conducted a preliminary analysis that indicates nine portions of the spectrum where the three ABE sites are completely separable from the three non-ABE sites. The wealth of site locations we are compiling from numerous sources provides a unique opportunity to develop algorithms for the classification of ABE and non-ABE sites. The large data volumes stemming from the 155 bands of hyperspectral data along with a great number of site sample points will produce a reliable relationship useful for statistical discrimination. The distribution and number of ABE sites provides information useful for both archaeological research and has consequences for the interpretation of Amazonian forest ecology. Knowledge of the disturbance history of the Amazonian forest provides a context and framework for the placement of all environmental research in the region.