May 25, 2022

Lost Cities of the Amazon Discovered From the Air

Researchers using LIDAR above the Bolivian Amazon have revealed details of the Casarabe Culture (500-1400 CE) showing urban centers, monumental platforms and pyramids. Raised causeways connected suburban settlements shaped by massive water control and distribution system with reservoirs and canals at  Llanos de Mojos. 600 miles of causeways and canals are identified, along with 26 sites including 11 newly discovered by LIDAR. Large centers are surrounded by rings of moats and ramparts aligned north-northwest.

The Casarabe culture disappeared at 1400 CE. Perhaps by way of widespread drought. The discovery of huge water reservoirs hint at that explanation.

Smithsonianmag has the detailed report here:


December 1, 2020

Ancient Amazonian Villages Laid Out Like a Clock Face

Ancient Amazonian villages laid out like a clock face have been discovered by experts, Remote sensing equipment mounted onto helicopters in south Acre State, Brazil is revealing an ancient landscape of mounded villages built between 1300 and 1700 AD.

The ancient Acreans had very specific social models for the way they organized their communitie to represent the Native American cosmos.

This is further evidence the rainforest has long-been occupied by indigenous communities, whose cultures rose, fell, transformed, and rose again, long before Europeans made an impact in the Americas. The research shows after the abandonment of the large geometrically patterned ceremonial earthworks.

Around AD 950, a new culture arose with communities living in mounded villages with highly defined concepts of social and architectural space.

The circular mound villages are connected across the wider landscape through paired sunken roads with high banks that radiate from the village circle like the marks of a clock or the rays of the sun. The villages have both minor roads and principal roads, which were deeper and wider with higher banks. Most villages have paired cardinally orientated principal roads, two leaving in a northward direction and two leaving in a southward direction. The survey reveals that the straight roads often connect one village to another, creating a network of communities over many kilometers.

Deforestation in the region had previously revealed the presence of large geoglyph earthworks on the landscape with archaeological research also documenting the presence of circular mound villages.

Over 35 villages and dozens of roads were documented in the research with many more predicted to still be hidden below the unexplored jungle. The villages were composed of three to 32 mounds arranged in a circle, the diameter of which ranged from 40 m to 153 m with the area enclosed.

The findings are published in a paper in the Journal of Computer Applications in Archaeology. has the story here: has a report here with a video and photos

And the Smithsonian has more here;

December 5th, 2020

Great Rock Art Discovery made in the Columbian Amazon

A groundbreaking discovery of ancient rock art in the Amazon rain forest of Columbia has led to observers calling this the Sistine Chapel of the Ancients.

Tens of thousands of paintings of animals and humans created at 10,500 BCE stretch eight miles on cliff faces. Depictions of now extinct animals like the mastodon, camelids, giant sloths, ice age horses tell us the date of these paintings. This discovery will take generations to study.

The discovery was made by a British-Colombian team, funded by the European Research Council. Its leader is José Iriarte, professor of archaeology at Exeter University and a leading expert on the Amazon and pre-Columbian history.

The images include fish, turtles, lizards and birds, as well as people dancing and holding hands, among other scenes. One figure wears a mask resembling a bird with a beak.

Many of the images are high up, some so high they could only be reached by drones. There are depictions of wooden towers among the paintings.

Many of these large animals appear surrounded by small men with their arms raised, almost worshipping these animals. Hallucinogenic plants are also portrayed.

Remains of the Ice Age meals of the inhabitants were also found at the site.

Some of the animals depicted could not have lived in the jungle, so the area must have been savanna like at that date.

There are many more paintings to be discovered there and will be explored when Covid is gone.

You can see this discovery on the Lost Kingdoms of the Amazon series. It is covered in episode 2 on Amazon on December 12.

The Guardian has the story here with many photos;

And here is a short You Tube video of the discovery.


March 27, 2018

Dozens of ancient villages discovered in ‘uninhabited’ Amazon rain forest

Tuesday, archaeologists announced the discovery of 81 previously unknown, lost villages in a small portion of the Amazon region, which in total cover more than 2.1 million square miles of tropical terrain in eight countries, including Brazil, Peru and Ecuador.

In addition to the villages, roads and farms were also discovered. The study said there is evidence for hundreds more villages that have yet to be uncovered in the Amazon.

Scientists say that portion of the southern Amazon rain forest was once home to 500,000 to 1 million people before the Europeans arrived in the late 1400s and early 1500s.

This means far more people likely lived in the Amazon than had been previously thought. The study authors write that this new research “definitively discredits early low estimates of 1.5-2 million inhabitants for the whole basin.”

The discovery fills a major gap in the history of the Amazon and provides further evidence that the rain forest — once thought to be untouched by human farming or occupation — has in fact been heavily influenced by those who lived in it.

Using satellite images and in-person surveys, scientists found the remains of villages and mysterious earthworks known as geoglyphs — man-made ditches with strange square, circular or hexagonal shapes, the purpose of which remains unknown.

After being hidden for centuries, these strange shapes have been made visible because of deforestation over the past few years.

The study was published Tuesday in Nature Communications, a peer-reviewed British journal.

USA TODAY has the story here;

March 29, 2018

New Research; Ancient Amazon Population in the Millions

New research into the ancient Amazon has discovered 81 sites in the upper Amazon, which was thought to be very sparsely inhabited in ancient times. As it turns out, millions of people lived there. The 81 sites were discovered by satellite imagery, and the effects of deforestation. The archaeological team investigating the satellite imagery then searched the area on foot at 24 of the locations so far, and found they were all inhabited sites. The peak of the activity has been dated to 1250-1500 CE. They have found ceramics, polished stones, and soil engineered by the inhabitants for abundant crops. Some of the sites are not near major rivers, but close to smaller streams, creeks and springs. The southern rim of the Amazon alone could have been home to 500,000-1 million people. What were thought to be isolated villages were actually connected by a stretch of human settlements 1,100 miles long, east to west. Ceramic styles differ along this stretch, thus showing that peoples along this stretch had differing cultures. 60% of this stretch has yet to be researched.
European arrival killed off the majority of these people with devastating diseases.

The Guardian has the report here;

October 12, 2017

Ancient Amazonians Domesticated Rice 4,000 Years Ago

Researchers from the UK and Brazil the UK have discovered that Amazonian people were domesticating rice 4,000 years ago. They analyzed 16 samples of plant remains from 10 different time periods and found the ancient Amazonians grew bigger rice over time. This helped with their diet during flooding seasons. The research was published in the journal Nature Ecology and Evolution.

Archaeology News Network has the report here;

September 22, 2017

Was Cacao Cultivated by Amazonian People 1,500 years before the Maya?

In 2014, archaeologists uncovered a stone structure built in a spiral in Ecuador. The structure contains a tomb dated at 3500 BCE. Ceremonial vessels in the tomb were found to contain cacao starch. There is a second temple similar to the one found in 2014 in the Amazon region found in 2016. It also contains a similar tomb, excavated twice by archaeologists across the river in Peru. So far, no funds have been raised to undergo further excavations at this twin site. If Cacao is found there as well, it will upset the timelines for the cultivation of cacao, and may prove that the people of the Amazon cultivated cacao 1,500 years before the Maya of Mesoamerica.

El Pais has the report here (in Spanish) with a good photo of the spiral tomb.

March 4, 2017

New Evidence of Wide Spread Forest Management by Ancient Amazonian People

A large Amazon research team studied 1000 forest surveys on a map of 3000 archaeological sites in the Amazon. They focused on 85 tree species domesticated by Amazonian people for food, shelter and other uses. They found extensive use of the Amazon forests by ancient peoples. They were able to show that these species are abundant across the Amazon, thus proving that the ancient peoples planted these trees over wide areas of the Amazon in Pre-Columbian times. Even more tree species were managed by these peoples, but not domesticated. The team will continue to study that aspect of ancient forest management. In the last few years, archaeological evidence of very large ancienrt structures in the Amazon have been uncovered, proving that the ancient Amazon had a much larger population and much more advanced culture than previously believed.

Eurekalert has the report here;


May 3, 2016

14th Century Amazon Inland Sites Discovered

Archaeologists are discovering that Pre-Columbian settlements in the Amazon of Brazil exist in areas not near rivers. 110 settlements in an inland region of the Amazon have been researched for 10 years. Water storage depressions and ponds enclosed by berms of clay and middens have been found at these sites. There was a 14th century inland expansion as water management and agriculture developed in the Amazon, accompanied by population growth. River banks are flooded during the 6 month rainy season, so the inland areas were farmed during the wet season.

The organization compiling this research has a website here;

PhysOrg has the story here;

July 25, 2015

Groundbreaking Report on Ancient Amazon Civilizations That Reached Millions in Population

An international team of researchers have been investigating ancient human habitation in the Amazon. They have found that the Amazon was once inhabitated by millions of people. Eight million to fifty million may have lived there by 1492. They found that 83 native species were cultivated there. Evidence of sprawling towns that streetched for miles have been uncovered. The researchers have found extensive land management systems, towns that housed 10,000 people each, with miles of extensive agriculture around them. Giant earthworks have been uncovered, along with graveyards, canals and causeways. The activity was widespread by 3000 BCE. All throught these regions, evidence of a man made soil mix called terra preta allowed for fertile crop production. They cultivated maize, squash, Brazil nuts, palm trees and fruit. Hundreds of archaeological sites have already been found.

The Daily Mail has an extensive report here with their usual excellent series of photos and videos;

And the research was published by the Royal Society in the UK, which has the complete research report here;

I want to thank Charles Mann who gave me the heads up on this complete report.

Mike Ruggeri’s Ancient Andean News on Tumblr