Researchers have discovered a group of abandoned settlements in the Amazon rainforest which supported a population of approximately 10,000 farmers around 2,000 years ago.
An archaeological discovery in Ecuador, consisting of earthen mounds and buried roads, was initially observed over 20 years ago by archaeologist Stéphen Rostain. However, Rostain was uncertain about its significance at the time. He is one of the researchers who published their findings in the journal Science on Thursday.
Using laser-sensor technology, a recent survey discovered that these locations are actually part of a highly concentrated network of settlements and interconnected roads situated in the forested foothills of the Andes. This network was in existence for approximately 1,000 years.
Rostain, who leads research at France’s National Center for Scientific Research, described the area as a forgotten land of urban centers. He expressed amazement at the discovery.
The researchers discovered that the settlements were inhabited by the Upano people from around 500BC to AD300 to 600, which coincided with the time period of the Roman empire in Europe.
Homes and buildings used for ceremonies were constructed on over 6,000 mounds made of earth. These structures were surrounded by fields used for farming, with canals for drainage. The main roads were 33 feet (10 meters) wide and extended for 6-12 miles (10-20km).
According to archaeologist Antoine Dorison, a co-author of the study from a French institute, it is challenging to determine the exact number of inhabitants, but the site was likely occupied by at least 10,000 people, and potentially up to 15,000 or 30,000 during its peak. This population is similar to that of Roman-era London, which was considered the largest city in Britain at the time.
“According to Michael Heckenberger, an archaeologist at the University of Florida who was not part of the research team, this demonstrates a highly concentrated population and a highly intricate society. In comparison to other regions, it stands out for its early development.”
According to José Iriarte, an archaeologist from the University of Exeter, constructing the roads and numerous earthen mounds would have necessitated a complex and well-coordinated labor system.
Iriarte, who was not involved in the study, stated that while the Incas and Mayans used stone for construction, those living in Amazonia did not have access to it and instead used mud. Despite this, the effort and work put into building with mud was still considerable.
According to the speaker, the Amazon is typically perceived as an untouched natural area with minimal human presence. However, recent findings have revealed the true complexity of its history.
In recent years, researchers have also uncovered proof of complex civilizations in the Amazon rainforest before Europeans arrived, specifically in Bolivia and Brazil.
Rostain stated that the Amazon has always been home to a wide range of people and communities, with various ways of living. He also mentioned that there is still much to be discovered about these populations.