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Huge Network of Lost Ancient Cities Found in the Amazon

Amazon forest
New aerial surveys of the Amazon rainforest reveal the largest lost ancient cities ever discovered there. Credit: Luísa Mota / Flickr / CC BY-NC-SA 2.0

New findings from aerial surveys of the Amazon rainforest reveal the largest ancient cities ever discovered there. These cities are connected by a vast network of roads.

Stéphen Rostain from the French National Center for Scientific Research in Paris says, “The settlements are much bigger than others in the Amazon.”

“They are comparable with Maya sites,” added Rostain.

Moreover, these cities, dating back 3,000 to 1,500 years, are older than other pre-Columbian ones identified in the Amazon. The mystery of why these societies completely vanished remains unclear, as reported by New Scientist.

Amazon rainforest untouched until the 15th century

Many people believe the Amazon rainforest was mostly untouched until Christopher Columbus arrived in the fifteenth century. However, early European explorers actually found farms and towns in the area.

Though these reports were initially ignored, recent discoveries of ancient earthworks made by farmers have supported these claims. One estimate suggests that as many as eight million people lived in the Amazon before Columbus arrived, as reported by New Scientist.

Since the 1990s, Stéphen Rostain and his team have been examining archaeological sites in the Upano Valley of the Ecuadorian Amazon, situated in the foothills of the Andes. Although signs of ancient settlements were first spotted in the 1970s, only a few sites have been thoroughly investigated.

In 2015, Rostain’s team conducted an aerial survey using lidar, a laser scanning technique that produces a detailed 3D map of the ground beneath most vegetation. This method unveils features that are not usually visible. The recently published findings reveal that the settlements were much larger than previously thought.

More than 6,000 raised earthen platforms discovered

The survey exposed over six thousand raised earthen platforms covering an area of three hundred square kilometers. These platforms once supported wooden buildings, as evidenced by excavations revealing post holes and fireplaces.

Typically measuring about ten by twenty meters and standing at two meters high, most platforms are believed to be former residential sites. The largest one, at 40 by 140 meters and towering at 5 meters, is thought to be a location for significant structures used in ceremonies.

Surrounding these platforms were fields, many of which had drainage facilitated by small canals dug around them. Rostain said the valley underwent extensive modifications.

Pottery analysis indicates the cultivation of corn, beans, manioc, and sweet potatoes in the surveyed region. There were a total of five significant settlements in the area. Rostain describes them as “garden cities” because of their sparse distribution of buildings.

The survey also unveiled a network of straight roads formed by excavating soil and building it up on the sides. The longest road stretches for at least twenty-five kilometers, with the possibility of extending beyond the surveyed area.

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