Rare Find: Explore Amazon’s Ancient London-Sized ‘Lost Valley of Cities’!

Researchers are now using 3D modelling, remote sensing and historical data to uncover the oldest settlements in the Amazon, providing insights into forest management and agricultural cultivation.

Sun 14 Jan 24


Archaeologists have made an “incredible discovery,” revealing a cluster of 2000-year-old lost cities buried deep in the Amazonian rainforest.

At its peak, the “lost valley of cities” was once home to up to 30,000 settlers and had a population comparable to Roman-era London, then Britannia’s largest city.

In October, Wood Central reported that more than 10,000 archeological sites were hidden within the Amazon forest canopy – with scientists uncovering records of thousands of indigenous communities in the region.

At the time, Vinicius Peripato from the Brazilian National Insitute of Space Research said that “the massive extent of archaeological sites and widespread human-modified forests across Amazonia is critically important for establishing an accurate understanding of interactions between human societies, Amazonian forests, and Earth’s climate.”

Archaeologists uncover lost cities in Ecuador. A huge network of ancient cities was uncovered in the Amazon. Upano Valley is home to the oldest settlements in the Amazon. Experts deployed remote sensing methods for investigation. Lidar uses laser lights to detect structures below tree canopies – footage courtesy of @WION.

Now, a series of interconnecting earthen mounds and buried roads discovered by archaeologist Stéphen Rostain more than 20 years ago have provided crucial insights into the extent of activity in the region during a 1000-year period. 

At the time, Mr Rostain “wasn’t sure how it all fits together,” who is one of the lead researchers who published the findings in the Science Journal late last week. 

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This Lidar image shows complexes of rectangular platforms distributed along wide dug streets at the Kunguints site, Upano Valley, in Ecuador. (Photo Credit: Supplied by Antoine Dorison and Stéphen Rostain)

However, with the help of modern, state-of-the-art laser-sensor technology, researchers have revealed the sites to be part of an extensive network of settlements and connecting roadways tucked into the forested foothills of the Andes in Ecuador.

“It was a lost valley of cities,” according to Mr Rostain, who now directs investigations at France’s National Center for Scientific Research – who said the “It’s incredible” what the study has found.

The research revealed that the Upano people occupied the settlements between about 500 BC and AD300 to 600 – a period roughly contemporaneous with the Roman Empire in Europe.

In recent years, archaeologists have been using modern technology to uncover more hidden cities in the Amazon – footage courtesy of @Vox.

It reveals that agricultural fields with drainage canals surrounded residential and ceremonial buildings erected on over 6,000 earthen mounds, with the largest roads up to 10 metres wide and stretching up to 20 kilometres.

At its peak, the site was home to at least 10,000 inhabitants – and perhaps as many as 15,000 or 30,000, which has turned historians’ understandings of human civilisation in the region on its head, according to archaeologist Antoine Dorison, one of the study’s co-authors.

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He said this means the population “is comparable to the estimated population of Roman-era London, then Britain’s largest city.”

“This shows a very dense occupation and an extremely complicated society,” according to Michael Heckenberger, a University of Florida archaeologist not involved in the study. 

“For the region, it’s really in a class of its own in terms of how early it is.”

José Iriarte, a University of Exeter archaeologist, said it would have required an elaborate system of organised labour to build the roads and thousands of earthen mounds.

“The Incas and Mayans built with stone, but people in Amazonia didn’t usually have stone to build – they built with mud. It’s still an immense amount of labour,” according to Mr Iriarte, who also had no role in the study.

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Last year, a new study published in Science uncovered Amazon’s hidden secrets and found records from thousands of ancient indigenous communities hidden under its canopy. Scientists are now “marking” the ancient sites in landscapes using crop circles.

The Amazon is often considered a “pristine wilderness with only small groups of people.” However, recent discoveries have shown us how much more complex the past is, with scientists uncovering evidence of intricate rainforest societies that predated European contact.

In addition, it also reveals just how active indigenous societies were in forest management practices, which have had lasting influences on modern Amazonian ecology

“These peoples mastered sophisticated land and plant management techniques,” according to Carolina Levis from the Federal University of Santa Catarina in Brazil, who published a report on how past indigenous populations interacted with the Amazon last year.

“In some cases, those techniques are still known to present-day communities and could inspire new ways to coexist with the forest without the need for its destruction.”

For Australian researcher Professor Bill Laurence, the recent spike in archeological research solves some of the anthropologists’ most pressing questions about the Amazon basin.

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According to Amazonian expert Bill Laurence, scientists now use cutting-edge remote sensing with archaeological data and advanced statistical modelling to uncover ancient societies deep in the forest. (Photo Credit: Supplied)

Professor Laurence, a long-time Amazon expert at James Cook University, said the research suggests more native people were living in the Amazon than many had imagined.”

“But they mostly lived in drier, more fertile areas where farming and forest burning was suitable.”

“There’s always been an incredible diversity of people and settlements in the Amazon, not only one way to live,” said Mr Rostain. “We’re just learning more about them.”


  • Jason Ross

    Jason Ross, publisher, is a 15-year professional in building and construction, connecting with more than 400 specifiers. A Gottstein Fellowship recipient, he is passionate about growing the market for wood-based information. Jason is Wood Central's in-house emcee and is available for corporate host and MC services.


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