LiDAR technology reveals ancient Amazonian cities

A Amazona vast place of information and curiosities, reveals itself as a center of rich stories and areas still to be discovered today.

Recent research has uncovered a fascinating network of cities deep in the Amazon rainforest, dating back 2,500 years.

The study was published in the journal Science and led by archaeologist Stéphen Rostain, director of research at the National Center for Scientific Research (CNRS) in France.

LiDAR allowed us to see these organizations under the green forest – Image: Revista Science/Reproduction

Search an information-dense landscape

Using the advanced technology LiDAR, the team mapped the Upano Valley, in Amazonian Ecuador, revealing the largest and oldest urban network discovered in the Amazon so far.

We can observe how ancient people organized themselves – Image: Science Magazine/Reproduction

This achievement resulted from more than two decades of investigations carried out by an international team composed of members from France, Germany, Ecuador and Puerto Rico.

LiDAR, a remote sensing technology, played a crucial role by capturing hidden details that escaped direct observation.

A search demonstrated that thousands of years ago, significant buildings were erected, roads were opened, and an elaborate organizational system was established.

The study shows that the first communities, 3 thousand years ago, inhabited small and dispersed houses.

Elevations to build houses – Image: Revista Science/Reproduction

However, between 500 BC and 300 to 600 AD, the Kilamope and Upano cultures began building mounds and raising their houses on earthen platforms organized around low, square plazas.

Analysis of LiDAR data identified more than 6,000 platforms in the southern half of the 600 km² surveyed area, indicating at least 15 clusters of complexes identified as settlements.

Some of these settlements were protected by ditches, suggesting exposure to external threats or tensions between groups.

People were organized

Stéphen Rostain highlights that the ancient populations of the forest were not simple semi-nomadic tribes in search of food, but rather a diverse society, with an urban system and stratified social structure.

Open paths for people to move around – Image: Science Magazine/Reproduction

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The complexes, even the most isolated ones, were connected by paths and an extensive network of straight roads, with curbs.

In the empty areas, land cultivation features were identified, such as drainage fields and terraces connected by pedestrian paths.

These trails were designed to be walked by people, providing a safe and dedicated environment for activities such as walking, running or sightseeing.

The discoveries expand our understanding of the complexity and sophistication of ancient Amazonian societies, revealing a richer and more intricate history than previously imagined.