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The Amazon is the world’s largest rainforest and its most dangerous, thanks to its hosting of wildlife such as anaconda snakes, black caimans and bullet ants.
This reputation has prompted archaeologists to believe that the vast, thick canopy was only suited for hunter-gatherer societies.
But the discovery of a cluster of “lost cities” more than 2,000 years old is up-ending that perception, NBC News reported.
Located in Ecuador’s Upano Valley, these ancient settlements were first identified more than 20 years ago by archaeologist Stéphen Rostain.
In their new study, Rostain and his team used laser mapping technology called LiDAR to penetrate the forest cover and reveal intricate networks of roads, neighborhoods and gardens.
“It was a lost valley of cities,” Rostain told the Associated Press. “It’s incredible.”
The Upano sites, occupied by the Upano people from 500 BCE to 600 CE, boast over 6,000 earthen platforms arranged geometrically across 116 square miles. The settlements were packed with residential and ceremonial structures, with one site being as large as Egypt’s Giza Plateau.
The landscape mirrors the “garden cities” of the Maya, emphasizing urban agrarian civilizations where agriculture was integrated into city life.
Co-author Fernando Mejía notes that this discovery represents “just the tip of the iceberg” of what’s hidden in the Ecuadorian Amazon, challenging the perception of the region as inhospitable for complex societies.
The Upano sites, 1,000 years older than previous Amazon findings, echo similarities with the Llanos de Mojos society in Bolivia. While both were farming communities with roads and civic structures, the details of their populations, trade connections, and governance are yet to be revealed.
“There’s always been an incredible diversity of people and settlements in the Amazon, not only one way to live,” noted Rostain. “We’re just learning more about them.”