– 'It's unbelievable': the discovery of the forgotten 'Valley of the Cities' in the Amazon
In what is now Ecuador, there was a densely populated urban area during the time of the Roman Empire. Thousands of people formed a complex community there.
Archaeologists have provided evidence of a complex society in the Amazon rainforest thousands of years ago. Mapping with laser sensors has revealed that the hills and overgrown roads in what is now Ecuador were part of a dense network of settlements in the forested foothills of the Andes that lasted about 1,000 years.
Rustin, who works at the French National Center for Scientific Research, discovered the remains more than two decades ago. “At the time, I wasn’t sure how it all fit together,” the archaeologist said.
It is now clear that the settlements were inhabited by the Obano people between about 500 BC and 300 to 600 AD, at a time roughly coinciding with the Roman Empire in Europe, according to researchers.
The residential and ceremonial buildings built on more than 6,000 hills were surrounded by agricultural fields and drainage canals. The largest connected roads were ten meters wide and between ten and 20 kilometers long.
At least 10,000 people lived in the settlements, and at their peak they may have numbered as many as 15,000 or even 30,000, according to archaeologist Antoine Dorison, co-author of the study. This is similar to the estimated population of London in Roman times, which was then the largest city in Great Britain.
This indicates intelligent organization of work, said José Iriarte, an archaeologist at the University of Exeter in the United Kingdom, who was not involved in the study. “The Incas and Mayans built with stone, but the people of the Amazon generally didn't have stone available to build with — they built with clay,” says Iriarte. The amount of work must be “enormous”.