Lost Amazon civilisation revealed
- Lost Amazon civilisation revealed after forests cleared for cattle grazing
By Claire Bates
05th January 2010
Hundreds of geometric monuments unearthed deep in the Amazon may have been left behind by a previously unknown society, say scientists.
Archaeologists have found more than 200 earthworks shaped as perfect circles and squares, many connected by straight roads. They have dated one site to 1283 AD but say others could be from as early as 200 AD.Enlarge
Aerial photograph and plan of the Fazenda Colorada site, which is made up of clear geometric shapes. Excavations suggest inhabitants lived in the three-sided square.
The earthen foundations were found in a region more than 150miles across, covering northern Bolivia and Brazil's Amazonas state.
The first ones were uncovered in 1999, after large areas of pristine forest was cleared for cattle grazing.
Sculpted from the clay rich soils of Amazonia, the earthworks are made up of 30ft wide and 10ft deep ditches alongside 3ft high walls. The largest ring ditches founds so far are 1,000ft in diameter.
The earthen structures or 'geoglyphs' can now be spotted against the treeless, savanna-like landscape and scientists have compiled an archive using Google Earth.
A team of researchers have analysed all the findings in a paper published in the journal Antiquity.
They found that most earthworks were clustered on a 200m high plateau at the top of river valleys. This would have given inhabitants a defensive advantage with a clear view of people coming up river. Most were also placed near spring water sources.Enlarge
Aerial photograph of the Fazenda Parana site. The geometric shape indicates such places had high symbolic significance
The researchers hypothesised that the monuments may also have had a ceremonial function, due to the highly symbolic geometric shapes used.
Co-author Denise Schaan from Federal University of Pará in Brazil, said: 'Whether the sites were purely ceremonial or defensive, it is clear that the area was densely populated by relatively sedentary people at the eve of European contact.'
Ms Schaan said they estimated at least 300 people would be needed to build a geoglyph when taking both workers and domestic helpers into account. This points to a regional population of around 60,000 people.
She added that nearly ten times as many earthworks may exist undetected under the remaining forest.
Excavations at some sites have also revealed evidence of permanent habitation, including domestic ceramics, charcoal and grinding stone fragments.
The findings cast serious doubt on previous studies that stated the area could only support small, impermanent villages.
Instead it is likely the Amazon teemed with complex societies...