Archaeologists have made an incredible discovery in the Amazon rainforest— the largest and oldest network of pre-Hispanic cities ever found, revealing a 2,500-year-old civilization of farmers. Covering over 1,000 square kilometers in the Upano valley on the foothills of the Andes in eastern Ecuador, this hidden site was unveiled by a French-led research team using laser-mapping technology and archaeological excavations.
The team identified 20 settlements, including five large cities connected by roads, forming a vast urban landscape unlike anything seen before in the Amazon. The lead archaeologist, Stephen Rostain, compared it to finding “El Dorado,” expressing awe at the scale of the discovery.
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This ancient civilization, known as the “Upano people,” left behind more than 6,000 earthen mounds, which served as the foundations for their homes. The researchers found evidence of domestic life, including fireplaces, ceramic jars for corn beer, grinding stones, seeds, and tools. Surprisingly, the cities featured large, straight streets, reminiscent of New York City, with central alleys for communal gatherings similar to the ancient Teotihuacan city in Mexico.
The mounds, some reaching 10 meters in height, are thought to be communal spaces for rituals or festivals rather than individual homes. The discovery challenges the previous belief that the Amazon was solely inhabited by hunter-gatherer societies, proving the existence of complex, urban populations.
Construction on the first mounds began between 500 BC and 300-600 AD, predating other large villages in the Amazon. The findings indicate that, contrary to past assumptions, the people of the Amazon had the capability to build a sophisticated society long before European colonization. The mystery of what happened to the Upano people remains, but this groundbreaking discovery invites us to reconsider our views of the ancient societies that once thrived in the Amazon.