A team of scientists recently made some big discoveries while flying over the Amazon with laser technology carried in helicopters. And the latter could well change our vision of the famous region.
The Amazon rainforest is a dense, unique and vast forest that extends over more than 3 million square kilometers. Ecologically essential to our Earth, it is also a jewel of human history. Ruins of human settlements are hidden under the dense vegetation, but fortunately modern laser technology can reach the forest floor and search for evidence of past civilization.
A recent study published in Nature announces that 11 new historic settlements have been discovered in the Llanos de Mojos, a region of the Amazon belonging to Bolivia. These sites are particularly sophisticated, including their own ceremonial architecture and complex water management infrastructure of canals and reservoirs. There are also cone-shaped platforms and pyramids up to 22 meters high.
The researchers discovered these ancestral constructs using LIDAR, a laser technology that scans large areas and sees through vegetation to analyze what lies beneath. Using this technology from helicopters, the team covered an area of approximately 4,500 square kilometers. Within this perimeter, they documented 24 smaller sites, 11 of which were previously unknown. They also scanned Cotoca and Landívar, two more important sites in the region.
Credit: H. Prumers/Dai
Credit: Figure 2/Prumers
Credit: Figure 1/Prumers
The Amazon, a once densely populated region?
“Our results refute arguments that the western Amazon was sparsely populated in pre-Hispanic times” write the authors of the study. Taken together, these sites support an evolutionary theory of the Amazon that highlights the interconnected network of densely populated areas, even cities, that seem to have existed despite the dense forest.
Their study indicates that these settlements date from around 500 to 1400 CE, when this part of the Bolivian Amazon was home to the Casarabe culture. The Casarab builders of these cities built defensive moats, canals to transport water and large-scale earthen buildings. Preserving this history has also become an important part of the race to stop the deforestation of the Amazon, which is home to real treasures.