Home Sciences They discover a “lost” pre-Hispanic civilization deep in the Amazon

They discover a “lost” pre-Hispanic civilization deep in the Amazon


In present-day Bolivia, a practically unknown civilization developed over more than 4,500 square kilometers deep in the Amazon and created a culture capable of coexisting harmoniously with its surroundings for more than 900 years.

Millions of lasers fired from a helicopter flying over the Amazon basin have revealed evidence of unknown settlements built by a “lost” pre-Hispanic civilization: the findings indicate that the mysterious Casarabe townwho lived in the Llanos de Mojos region of the Amazon basin between 500 and 1,400 AD, was much more numerous than previously thought and had developed a rich and extensive civilization.

According to a new study recently published in the journal Nature, researchers at the German Archaeological Institute discovered several unknown settlements within a network of roads, causeways, reservoirs and canals that centered on two large settlements of the Casarabe culture, now called Cotoca and Landívar in present-day Bolivia.

An interconnected and advanced civilization in the middle of the Amazon

As the specialists explain in an article published in Live Science, the communication system created made it possible to get from one settlement to another in about an hour’s walk. The discoveries indicate that this region of the Amazon was very densely populated in pre-Hispanic times, contrary to what was believed until today.

Previous studies had reported the existence of archaeological remains and urban centers based on agriculture and located in tropical forest areas in Southeast Asia, Sri Lanka and Central America, but there was no evidence on ancient communities similar in this area of ​​South America, beyond some large interconnected settlements in the south of the Amazon. Consequently, the identified sites belonging to the Casarabe culture force us to question the scientific models in this regard.

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The Llanos de Mojos region It is a tropical lowland savannah in the southwestern Amazon basin. It has wet and dry seasons: in the drier months it hardly ever rains, but during the rainy season, between November and April, much of the area is flooded for months. Spanish missionaries in the 16th century only found isolated communities living in that area: because of this, scientists assumed that the area’s pre-Hispanic population had had the same characteristics.

Despite this, some researchers began to doubt the accuracy of this theory and began studies. Thus, earthworks were found in the 1960s, but many scientists questioned whether they were really ruins or just natural features. However, the latest studies confirmed that the smaller settlements of Casarabe could have been the home to thousands of people: 24 urban centers are already known, nine of which were discovered in the current study, led by the archaeologist Heiko Prümers.

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A new type of tropical urbanism

In their conclusions, the scientists describe that the sites belonging to the Casarabian culture they formed a dense system of settlements on four levels, in an area that covered approximately a total of 4,500 square kilometers. Each one of the most important nuclei controlled an area of ​​approximately 500 square kilometers. They were connected by a complex network of roads and highways.

The civic-ceremonial architecture One of these large settlements includes stepped platforms, on which U-shaped structures, rectangular formations and conical pyramids up to 22 meters high are erected. It is still unknown what meaning they had within the framework of the worldview and beliefs of these pre-Hispanic peoples.

Meanwhile, the enormous infrastructure of Water management, made up of canals and reservoirs, completes the system of settlements in a landscape modified by human beings, but which at the same time maintained harmony with the exuberant surrounding natural environment. The results of the study indicate that the settlement pattern of the Casarabe culture represents a type of tropical urbanism that had not been identified until now in that part of South America.


Lidar reveals pre-Hispanic low-density urbanism in the Bolivian Amazon. Heiko Prümers, Carla Jaimes Betancourt, José Iriarte, Mark Robinson & Martin Schaich. Nature (2022). DOI:https://doi.org/10.1038/s41586-022-04780-4

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