Lidar reveals remnants of an overgrown ancient civilization in the Amazon

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It’s Friday and the world is falling apart, so let’s just take a little break for mental health and share interesting news from the field of archeology, where technology allows exciting new discoveries. New lidar analysis lands in the Amazon have provided evidence of a previously unknown urban center of “mind-blowing” complexity.

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To be clear, this does not mean ancient aliens or long-lost technology, just that they far exceed the expected levels of organization and population that scientists thought possible for the Amazons 1,500 years ago.

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“No one expected such a society in this region… a pyramid 20 meters high,” said Heiko Prümers of the German Archaeological Institute. in a video produced by Nature. “The whole region was so densely populated in pre-Hispanic times that it is unbelievable. A new civilization, a new culture are waiting for us to study them.”

Until recently, the Amazon was thought to be nothing but small tribes until the arrival of Spanish and Portuguese explorers, a typically Eurocentric view that is increasingly being questioned by new scientists. In this case, Prümers was intrigued by the mounds called Lomas, hidden under the vegetation, but hinting at something more. Excavations have shown that these were not dumps (as some thought), but organized sites for graves, rituals and other things, indicating a complex, hierarchical society.

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But finding bumps in the ground under a rainforest canopy is far from easy, so in 2019 they decided to scan the area in a helicopter, using lidar to reconstruct the contours of the surface under the trees. This method has proven to be very fruitful in recent times, with entire Mayan cities and even kilometer-long artificial earth embankment is revealed in this way.

Animation showing a forest overlaid on a 3D lidar image.

Image credits: Prymers and others.

The lidar beams pass between leaves and branches, reflecting and providing amazingly detailed images of the height of the ground below them. More than ever, this data can be quickly collected and analyzed to create a 3D point cloud that is easily checked for hidden structures.

The team has discovered more than a few new Lomas: platforms, huge pyramids, fortifications, reservoirs and channels and much more, connecting what appeared with hundreds of settlements of various sizes. This contradicts the assumption that the local peoples were nomadic or collective, and not settled and agricultural.

Lidar images of objects detected in the city of Casarabe using lidar.

Lidar images of objects detected in the city of Casarabe using lidar.

The Casarabe culture, as it was named after its discovery, remains mostly a mystery. After all, its existence was confirmed only recently, but this served as a starting point for further research.

“We need to be patient and wait for further excavations at these sites to be able to explain some of what we are seeing right now,” Preumers said, although this is a work of such magnitude and duration that it may be necessary for him to bequeath it. to their students. . “For me, who has worked in this region for the last 20-25 years, this is like a dream come true! To say at the end of a career that yes, we have a new culture? It’s nice, I admit it.”

As with many other fields, technology is a driver (Pryumers estimates it could take 400 years to unearth everything they found with lidar), it can never replace the hard work and experience that people bring into the equation. You can read the full article (in the public domain) in Nature..


Credit: techcrunch.com /

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