Laser mapping technology has uncovered an expansive network of ancient towns and cities hidden deep in the Amazon rainforest of Ecuador, revealing a civilization that existed over 2,500 years ago.
Overview of the Discovery
Researchers discovered over 20 settlements spanning more than 500 square miles in the Llanos de Mojos region of northern Bolivia using airborne laser mapping, known as LiDAR technology. The scanned images peeled back the dense rainforest canopy to reveal elaborate earthworks and infrastructure indicating a sophisticated pre-Columbian culture once existed in the area.
“We were really surprised – no one expected such a quantity of settlements there,” said study author and University of Bonn archaeologist Heiko Prumers. The findings provide unprecedented insight into one of the world’s last unexplored frontiers.
Key Details About the Lost Cities
|Number of settlements discovered
|500 BCE to 1400 CE
|Over 500 sq miles
|Largest settlement size
|Over 1,250 acres
|60,000 to 100,000 people
Life in the Ancient Rainforest Cities
The LiDAR images show the lost civilization constructed reservoirs, ponds and canals along with agricultural land and residential space to create an interconnected network where over 60,000 people once lived. There is also evidence of pits possibly used for waste management.
The ancient Amazonians likely grew crops like sweet potatoes, chili peppers and varieties of bean near the residential areas. They seemed to prefer elevated areas along bluffs and ridges near water sources for building homes and public spaces, adapting uniquely to their rainforest environment.
“These were complex societies that engineered large areas of land, built monumental structures, and managed resources sustainably over centuries,” noted archaeologist Stéphen Rostain. The settlements thrived from 500 BCE to 1400 CE before declining and being reclaimed by the forest. Disease introduced by Europeans is one theory for their disappearance.
Significance of the Lost Cities
The discovery demonstrates these indigenous groups had an advanced understanding of architecture and agriculture to build such an extensive network. They engaged in community planning not believed possible in ancient rainforest civilizations prior to this.
The research vastly expands our knowledge about early South Americans who cultivated and managed the Amazon landscape on such a large scale so long ago. It upends previous assumptions about human activity in tropical forests. These cultures were clearly much more sophisticated than academics realized.
What’s Next for the Lost Cities
While the aerial LiDAR images opened an unprecedented window into the Amazon’s past, archaeologists still hope to study the area on the ground to further understand the people who engineered such an elaborate rainforest society.
Researchers want to excavate artifacts that could provide more insight into how this civilization sustained itself, interacted with neighbors, and ultimately met its demise. Detailed on-site analysis can also reveal more about the region’s transformation over time.
Additionally, scientists believe more ancient towns and cities could still lie hidden beneath the rainforest canopy across the broader Amazon. They plan to conduct more LiDAR examinations throughout Amazon regions of Bolivia, Brazil and Peru to potentially uncover signs of other lost cultures reclaimed by jungle.
The recent discovery highlights how much we still don’t know about past Indigenous groups and life in Amazonia. As technology opens new windows into evidence previously obscured by dense forest, it emphasizes how the rainforest ecosystem holds answers about our ancestral understanding of the natural world. What other revelations lay shrouded under lush jungle waiting to teach us about environmentally harmonious societies?
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