New scans reveal mind-blowing ancient Amazonian settlements

New lidar scans suggest the existence of vast, ancient Amazonian civilisations dating back nearly 1,500 years.

The Amazon Rainforest has long been viewed as an unforgiving, inhospitable landscape, with the dominant, Eurocentric dogma suggesting that small, Indigenous tribes barely scratched out small villages before the arrival of Europeans.

New evidence, attained via lidar scanning, (tech that provides 3D scans without land clearing) has revealed structures suggesting complex civilisation much earlier than mainstream archaeological views suggest.

Amazon river
Credit: iStock.

Heiko Prümers, of the German Archaeological Institute, says, “nobody expected that kind of society in that region… pyramids 20 meters high.”

Prümers scans revealed mounds called lomas, hidden beneath the Amazon’s dense vegetation. Further excavation found that these mounds were organised areas for graves and social rites, indicators of a far more organised, complex, and hierarchical society.

Then applying lidar, Prümers team made more startling discoveries: platforms, large pyramids, defensive structures, reservoirs, and canals connecting what appeared to be hundreds of settlements of varied sizes.

“The whole region has been so densely habituated during the pre-Hispanic time… there is a new civilisation, new culture, waiting for us to study them,” Prümers said.

Sceptics have long held the floor when it comes to the history of settlements in the Amazon, who asserted that early Amazonians were nomadic foragers, instead of sedentary agrarians.

Anthropologist Michael Heckenberger of the University of Florida, Gainesville, says, “these societies were fully on par with small to medium-sized populations anywhere on the globe in the 1400s. They weren’t backward in any way.”

The discovery of “terra preta” or “black earth” in Portuguese, is of particular significance. The nutrient-rich soil is thought to be man-made through controlled burning and key to how early-Amazonians supported large populations via crops such as maize.

But even the most optimistic of archaeologists accept that more evidence is required to make further claims about early Amazonian civilisation.

Prümers believes that, while the latest discoveries are hard to argue with, forbearance is key. “We need to be patient and wait for further excavations in those sites to be able to explain something of what we are seeing right now,” he explained.

For me, who has worked over these last 20, 25 years in that region, it’s sort of a dream coming true! To say at the end of my career that, yeah, we have a new culture? That’s nice, I admit that.”

Check out the neat little video below to find out more about the discovery.