The Amazon covers a large network of 2,500-year-old cities and has streets “like New York.”

Spread over a thousand square kilometers in the Upano Valley (Ecuador), at the foot of the Andes mountain range, it includes about twenty towns connected to each other by roads. According to the research, urban planning is unprecedented in the Amazon for such an ancient period.

“It's not just a village, it's an entire landscape cultivated by man,” explained France-Presse (AFP) Stephane Rostain, published this week in the journal Science.

It's been 25 years since this French archaeologist discovered the first traces of this civilization called “Upano” by excavating a few hundred earthen mounds.

In 2015, a company hired by Ecuador's heritage office flew over the region with lidar, an innovative technique for surveying the ground and finding hidden structures that allow you to 'pass' between the leaves of trees in the dense forest.

“By removing the vegetation cover, it is possible to restore the true shape of the soil in these hundreds of square kilometers, which is impossible on the ground”, explained Stephen Rosstein. The images reveal more than 6,000 mounds, rectangular earthen platforms that served as foundations for houses to protect them from wet soil. “I didn't expect something so amazing. It's a real scientific 'El Dorado' for an archaeologist,” the researcher said.

The first sites were built between 500 BC and 300 and 600 AD, thus covering the period of the Roman Empire. Other pre-Hispanic villages have been discovered in the Amazon, but they are more recent, between 500 and 1500 AD, and are not large.

Even more remarkable: the unearthed cities were crossed by large streets “like in New York” straight and at right angles, the archaeologist explained, connecting the villages for commercial and ceremonial purposes.

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Some cities have a large central 'avenue' like the one at the Teotihuacan archeological site in Mexico, as they are “densely populated”, with “several thousand people” and figures. A study is underway to obtain a comprehensive assessment. The 8- to 10-meter-high mounds testify to the construction of houses, but also communal spaces for rituals or feasts.

The small fields also indicate that it was an agricultural society that “used very little empty space to its advantage,” a scientist working at the United States Archaeological Survey of America studied. When inspecting the houses, Rostine had already found countless household remains: seeds, grinding stones, tools or ceramic pots for drinking corn beer.

“We are not in the context of a nomadic society, but a stratified society, probably with authority and engineers to plan routes”, highlighted Stephen Rosstein. This discovery, according to the scientist, proves that “in the Amazon there were not only ancient tribal hunters, but also complex urban people”, “a certain Western arrogance tends to control the civilizations of wild people in a savage way”.

“It's time for Amazon to rethink this pejorative concept,” he argued.

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