Ancient settlement sites discovered in the Amazon

Archaeologists have discovered eleven previously unknown settlements of the Casarapi culture in the southwestern Amazon, dating back to between AD 500 and 1400. Two of the archaeological sites are much larger and more complex than anything previously known in the area. In addition, they were apparently linked to smaller surrounding settlements via well-developed canal systems, suggesting a hierarchical organization. The discoveries thus shed new light on the cultural and architectural achievements of this early tropical culture.

The impressive buildings of Mesoamerica bear witness to the achievements of the early advanced civilization, the Maya civilization. On the other hand, in the lowlands of the Amazon in South America, scientists assumed that the natural conditions there were unsuitable for larger civilizations. Members of the Kazarapi culture lived in this region between about 500 and 1400 CE. However, since archaeological studies in the area are hampered by the dense vegetation of the Amazon rainforest, little is known about this culture and its stage of development.

Laser scans reveal hidden architecture

A team led by Heiko Brummers of the German Archaeological Institute in Bonn presents exciting new findings on the architecture and settlement organization of the Kazarapi culture. The researchers examined six regions of Bolivia’s Llanos de Mojos Savannah from the air. They used a technology called lidar (light detection and ranging), in which they scan the landscape with lasers. of radiation reflected from the earth
The program can reconstruct how landscapes are formed under dense vegetation.

“LiDAR data revealed two remarkably large facilities in a four-tiered settlement system,” Brumers and colleagues report. “The civic and ceremonial architecture of these large outposts includes stepped platforms supporting U-shaped structures, rectangular platform mounds, and 22-meter-high conical pyramids.” Brommers and colleagues identified complex canal systems that may have been used for irrigation, water storage, and fishing.

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hierarchical organization

In addition to the two main sites, Kotoka and Landiva, researchers have identified 24 smaller outposts, nine of which were previously unknown. Using factors such as the size of the ground platforms, the architecture on them, aqueducts and water storage systems, the authors deduced a four-level hierarchical classification of the sites. They found that the larger sites were surrounded by smaller ones and connected by canals and bridges.

Colorado State University archaeologist Christopher Fisher said in a commentary accompanying the publication, which was also published in Nature. “Kotoka and Landivar are two examples of a new type of urbanization in Amazonia. Brommers and colleagues’ work fundamentally challenges current understanding of Amazonian prehistory and enriches our knowledge of tropical civilizations.”

Source: Heiko Prümers (German Archaeological Institute, Bonn) et al., Nature, doi: 10.1038/s41586-022-04780-4

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