The ruins of 11 previously unknown settlements in the Amazon rainforest have been revealed with the assistance of jungle-penetrating lasers.
The discovery was reported in the academic journal, Nature, after scientists carried out an examination of six areas within a 4,500 square kilometer region of the Llanos de Mojos in the Bolivian part of the Amazon. They discovered two large settlement sites in total, named Cotoca and Landívar, along with 24 smaller ones, of which, just 15 were known to exist.
The settlements weren’t merely a scattering of a few basic huts; it appears that some were once bustling communities with their own ceremonial architecture and complex water-management infrastructure composed of canals and reservoirs. Among these larger settlements of Cotoca and Landívar, the team even discovered vast platform mounds and cone-shaped pyramids measuring up to 22 meters (72 feet) tall.
Their study indicates that the settlements date from approximately 500 CE to 1400 CE, when this portion of the Bolivian Amazon was home to the Casarabe culture.
It had been previously assumed that the Amazon rainforest was too dense and wild to support human settlements in pre-Columbian years. However, thanks to recent major discoveries, it is now known that the rainforest was at one point full of networks of complex settlements.
The authors of the study said:
“Our results put to rest arguments that western Amazonia was sparsely populated in pre-Hispanic times.”
The discoveries have been made thanks to the laser-based imaging technology, Lidar, which was first invented in the 1970s for space exploration. The lasers are capable of seeing through thick vegetation and identify indications of human-made structures that are nor present any more.
Chris Fisher, an archaeologist and professor of anthropology at Colorado State University, said:
“As with other tropical regions, the application of archaeological Lidar to the Amazon has launched a transformative process of discovery, documentation and reworking of assumptions held for decades regarding the nature of ancient societies. [This] work is the opening salvo of an Amazonian new orthodoxy that challenges the current understanding of Amazonian prehistory and fundamentally enriches our knowledge of tropical civilizations.”
[Based on reporting by: IFL science]