A series of earthen mounds and buried roads in Ecuador was first noticed more than two decades ago by archaeologist Stephen Rostain. Rostain was one of those researchers who published the findings Thursday in the journal, Science .
Recent mapping by laser-sensor technology revealed those sites to be part of a dense network of settlements and connecting roadways, tucked into the forested foothills of the Andes, that lasted about 1,000 years.
“It’s a valley of lost cities, said Rostain who is the director at France’s National Center for Scientific Research. “It’s incredible.”
The settlements were occupied by the Upano people between around 500 B.C. and 300 to 600 A.D. – a period roughly contemporaneous with the Roman Empire in Europe, the researchers found.
Residential and ceremonial buildings erected on more than 6,000 earthen mounds were surrounded by agricultural fields with drainage canals. The largest roads were 33 feet (10 meters) wide and stretched for 6 to 12 miles (10 to 20 kilometers).
While it’s difficult to estimate populations, the site was home to at least 10,000 inhabitants – and perhaps as many as 15,000 or 30,000 at its peak, said archaeologist Antoine Dorison, a study co-author at the same French institute. This is comparable to estimated populations of Roman era London and Britain’s biggest city.
“This shows a very dense occupation and an extremely complicated society,” said University of Florida archeologist Michael Heckenberger, who was not involved in the study. “For the region, it’s really in a class of its own in terms of how early it is.”
Jose Iriarte, a University of Exeter archaeologist, said it would have required an elaborate system of organized labor to build the roads and thousands of earthen mounds.
“The Incas, Mayans and other ancient civilizations built their buildings with stone. But people of Amazonia did not have access to stone. They built using mud. It’s still an immense amount of labor,” said Iriarte, who had no role in the research.
The Amazon has often been portrayed as an “untouched wilderness” with small numbers of humans. But recent discoveries have shown us how much more complex the past really is,” he said.
Scientists have recently also found evidence of intricate rainforest societies that predated European contact elsewhere in the Amazon, including in Bolivia and in Brazil.
“There’s always been an incredible diversity of people and settlements in the Amazon, not only one way to live,” said Rostain. “We’re just learning more about them.”
The post Archeologists uncover ‘lost valley of cities’ built 2,500 years ago in Ecuador appeared first on France 24.