Ancient Civilization of 'Lost Cities' Discovered in Amazon Rainforest

Jan 18, 2024

Archaeologists have found traces of a network of “lost cities.” And they flourished in the Amazon rainforest more than 2,000 years ago, says a study published in the journal Science. 

The finding depicts a civilization of cities that relied on “advanced engineering.” In these cities, a linked series of roads, canals, gardens, and large community or sacred structures were built. They spanned 116 square miles of Ecuador's Amazon lands.

“It’s a complete (shift) in our (beliefs) about the Amazon,” Stéphen Rostain told CNN. He's the lead study author. He's also the director of research at the French National Center for Scientific Research (CNRS). “We have to think that all the Indigenous (people) in the rainforest were not semi-nomadic tribes lost in the forest, looking for food. They’re a big (diverse group) of cases and some (also had an urban system),” he said.

Rostain and his team relied on laser sensors to map the area. They found proof of as many as 6,000 buildings built on mounds of earth and hidden in the forest. Many were around canals and planting fields. The team also found a complex network of roadways.

The Upano people lived on the land. Their civilization, experts said, lasted for 1,000 years. It endured during much of the same time as the Mayan Empire in Guatemala and Mexico. This was from roughly 500 BCE to between 300 CE and 600 CE.

José Iriarte is an archaeologist with the University of Exeter. He said building these cities needed large groups of advanced workers.

The Amazon, he told The Associated Press, is widely thought to be a “pristine wilderness with only small groups of people. But recent (findings) have shown us how much more complex the past really is.” 

Photo from Flickr courtesy of Nguyen Ngoc Chinh.

Reflect: How might the discovery of 'lost cities' in the Amazon rainforest challenge our previous understanding of the region's history and the civilizations that once thrived there?

Which conclusion is best supported by the details in the story? (Common Core RI.5.1; RI.6.1)
a. The Amazon rainforest has always been a pristine wilderness with minimal human activity.
b. The Upano people's civilization lasted for a thousand years, showcasing a complex and organized society.
c. Laser-sensor technology is not effective in archaeological research in dense forests.
d. The Mayan Empire in Guatemala and Mexico had no historical connection with civilizations in the Amazon.
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