'Astonishing' Ancient Amazon Civilization Discovery Detailed

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Recently, new satellite imagery detected

a hidden kingdom in the Amazon that had eluded explorers for nearly 500

years.

Denise Schaan

Some called it El Dorado, others, like Colonel Percy Harrison Fawcett (a British version of Indiana Jones) cryptically named it the "City of Z."

The jungle swallowed them all, and no evidence has ever been produced that such a place existed.

Now the satellite imagery of deforested

sections of the upper Amazon Basin revealed more than 200 geometric earthworks.

Sculpted from the clay rich soils of Amazonia as perfect circles and squares,

these structured earth mounds, or "geoglyphs," are located

on the east side of the Andes and span a distance of 155 miles.

Built long before Christopher Columbus

set foot in the new world — the sites date from 200 to 1283 A.D.– the

earthworks are the remains of roads, bridges and squares that formed the

basis for a lost civilization, according to a study published in the journal

Antiquity.

Denise Schaan, co-author of the

study and anthropologist at the Federal University of Pará, in Belém,

Brazil, tells Discovery News about this intriguing finding.

Denise Schaan: The geoglyphs are an astonishing discovery. They do not represent the ancient city full of gold long sought by the early explorers of the Amazon, but they are indeed an El Dorado to archaelogists: they are the vestiges of a sophisticated pre-Columbian monument-building society.

According to Schaan and colleagues Martti Parssinen from the University

of Helsinki and Alceu Ranzi from the Federal University of Acre,

Rio Branco, Brazil, the structures are formed by ditches about 36 feet

wide and several feet deep, lined by earthen banks up to 3 feet high.

Denise Schaan: We are talking of enourmous structures, with diameters ranging from 100 to 300 meters, connected by straight orthogonal roads. They are strategically located  on plateaux tops above the river valleys. Their builders took advantage of the natural topography in order to construct spaces that were full of symbolic meaning.

But who built the structures and what functions they had remains unclear.

Denise Schaan: They were probably villages, ceremonial centers, gathering places and point to a society of a complex nature. Indeed, to build these structures you need organization, planning, and large labor force. Amazingly, this suggest that quite substantial population was living in an area long believed to be too harsh to sustain permanent settlements.

Schaan and colleagues estimated at least 300 people would be needed to build a geoglyph. This points to a regional population of around 60,000 people, which was then wiped out by diseases brought by European conquistadores in the 15th and 16th centuries.

Denise Schaan: We were used to find vestiges of large populations along the main rivers, in the Amazon floodplain. Now we see that the interfluvies were also highly populated. We are finding new structures every week, and I got the impression this is just the tip of the iceberg.

The researchers believe that the sites already found make up only 10 percent of what is actually there.

Denise Schaan: Actually, there may be another 2,000 structures hidden in the jungle. It is clear for us that the search does not end here. We will carry out extensive excavations to investigate more deeply the activities that took place in these places.
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