Archaeologists working in the heart of the Amazon rainforest have made a remarkable discovery – an extensive network of cities dating back 2,500 years. This highly organized network of pre-Hispanic settlements features wide streets, straight roads, plazas, and monumental platforms. The findings, published in the journal Science, are the result of over two decades of research in the Upano Valley of Amazonian Ecuador, carried out by an international team from France, Germany, Ecuador, and Puerto Rico. Their work involved on-site investigations and the use of light detection and ranging (LiDAR) technology to uncover structures hidden beneath dense forest canopies.
The Incredible Discovery
The researchers, led by Stéphen Rostain, Director of Research at France’s National Center for Scientific Research (CNRS), described the discovery as “incredible.” The earliest inhabitants of the region, dating back 3,000 years, lived in small dispersed houses. However, between 500 BCE and 300 to 600 CE, the Kilamope and Upano cultures began constructing mounds and platforms to elevate their houses. These platforms were grouped around square plazas, and LiDAR data revealed over 6,000 of these rectangular and some circular platforms. Each measuring about 20 meters by 10 meters.
Complex Urban Planning
The platforms often encircled a plaza and were typically arranged in groups of three or six, some with a central platform. The team also discovered monumental complexes with larger platforms, likely serving civic or ceremonial purposes. In total, at least 15 clusters of settlements were identified, some with protective ditches and obstructions to roads. Suggesting potential external threats or inter-group tensions.
Network of Roads and Agriculture
The study revealed an extensive network of straight roads with curbs linking even the most isolated complexes. Between these settlements, buffer zones contained features of land cultivation, including drainage fields and terraces, connected by footpaths. This intricate network led Rostain to describe these communities as “garden cities,” challenging previous assumptions about Amazonian Indigenous people as semi-nomadic.
Advanced Engineering and Paradigm Shift
The organization of these cities suggests advanced engineering, further dispelling the myth of a pristine Amazon. Rostain emphasized the diversity of Indigenous societies, stating, “Some were also with (an) urbanistic system, with (a) stratified society.” This discovery aligns with similar sites found across the Americas. Emphasizing early advanced urban planning in the Amazon and offering insights into the complexities of ancient Amazonian societies.
The recent discovery of an ancient network of cities in the Amazon rainforest, featuring advanced urban planning. Provides new perspectives on Indigenous societies in the region. These findings challenge traditional notions of the Amazon as an untouched wilderness. And also shed light on the rich cultural and environmental legacies of ancient Amazonian civilizations.