Category Archives: SOUTH AMERICA

Archaeological Site in Peru Is Called Oldest City in the Americas

Archaeological Site in Peru Is Called Oldest City in the Americas

A complex of American pyramids that may be older than the pyramids of Egypt stands on a high, dry terrace overlooking a lush river valley in the Andes Mountains of Peru. These structures are remnants of the ancient city of Caral, which some have called the oldest society in the Americas.

According to groundbreaking research published in Science back in 2001, Caral was founded around 5,000 years ago. That origin date places it before the Egyptian pyramids in Africa and roughly 4,000 years before the Incan Empire rose to power on the South American continent. That history, and the sheer scope of the site, prompted UNESCO, the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural.

Caral sits in the Supe Valley, a region of Peru’s high desert nestled between the rainforest, mountains and the Pacific coast. The valley is brimming with ancient monumental architecture. And in the decades since Caral first made headlines, archaeologists working in the region have turned up about 18 nearby cities, some of which may be even older.

Taken together, these ancient people represent a complex culture now called Norte Chico. These people lived at a time when cities were on Earth, and perhaps non-existent elsewhere in the so-called New World. Even more incredible is that the civilization pre-dated the invention of ceramic pottery by some six centuries, yet they could master the technological prowess required to build monumental pyramids. 

Much remains a mystery about this culture, but if archaeologists can unlock the secrets of Caral and its ancient neighbours, they may be able to understand the origins of Andean civilizations — and the emergence of the first American cities. 

The Pyramids of Caral

A German archaeologist named Max Uhle first stumbled across Caral in 1905 during a wide-ranging study of ancient Peruvian cities and cemeteries. The site piqued his interest, but Uhle didn’t realize the large hills in front of him were actually pyramids. Archaeologists only made that discovery in the 1970s. And even then, it took another two decades before Peruvian archaeologist Ruth Shady kicked off systematic excavations of the region.

In 1993, working on weekends with the help of her students, Shady began a two-year survey of the Supe Valley that would ultimately yield a staggering 18 distinct settlements. No one knew how old they were, but the cities’ similarities and more primitive technologies implied a single, ancient culture that predated all others in the region.

By 1996, Shady’s work attracted a small fund from the National Geographic Society, which was enough to launch her Caral Archaeological Project working at the heart of the main city itself.

And when her team’s initial results were published in 2001, their study set the narrative for Caral as we still appreciate it today. The global press heralded it as the first city in the Americas. “Caral … was a thriving metropolis as Egypt’s great pyramids were being built,” Smithsonian Magazine reported. The BBC said the find offered hope to a century-long archaeological search for a “mother city” — a culture’s true first transition from tribal family units into urban life. Such a discovery could help explain why humanity made the leap.

Ruth’s work would make her an icon in Peruvian archaeology. As a 2006 feature in Discover put it, “She has dug [Caral’s] buildings out of the dust and pried cash from the grip of reluctant benefactors. She has endured poverty, political intrigue, and even gunfire (her bum knee is a souvenir of an apparent attempted carjacking near the dig site) in the pursuit of her mission.”

She continues to study the ancient society today, eking out new clues buried in the desert. Over decades, her long-running project has revealed that the “Sacred City of Caral-Supe” covers roughly 1,500 acres of surprisingly complex and well-preserved architecture. At its height, Caral was home to thousands of people and featured six pyramids, sunken circular courts, monumental stone architecture and large platform mounts made of earth. To researchers, these buildings are a testament to a forgotten ceremonial and religious system.

She now holds honorary doctorate degrees from five universities and a Medal of Honor from Peru’s congress. In November of 2020, the BBC named her to their 100 Women of 2020 list. 

But controversy has also emerged in the two decades since the seminal study. Shady had a falling out with her co-authors in the years after their publication that turned nasty. Soon, other researchers had also started producing radiocarbon dates from the ancient cities that surround Caral. Surprisingly, some of those dates suggest they could be even older. Those dates could simply be evidence that these cities all existed simultaneously as part of a larger culture in this valley in the Andes. Or, it could be a sign that the true oldest city has yet to be found. 

Influence on the Inca

Whichever city in the area is oldest, Norte Chico presents a puzzle for human history. Until recent years, conventional wisdom held that people first reached North America in earnest 13,000 years ago via a land bridge that appeared as the Ice Age thawed. A steady stream of sites older than that has since been found. In Peru, human remains have shown that hunter-gatherers lived in the region as far back as at least 12,000 years ago. And there are traces of settlements along the Pacific Coast from 7,000 years ago. The residents of Caral were likely the ancestors of these people who decided to settle down and build cities in the Supe Valley.

But why would the mother city of the Americas emerge so early in South America? Well-known sites in North America, like the cities of the Olmec, as well as Chaco Canyon and Moundville, weren’t built until thousands of years later.

To archaeologists, unlocking the story of Caral — and what became of the people who lived there — could carry implications for the story of the Americas as a whole. The Caral civilization survived for nearly a millennium, until, some researchers suspect, climate change wiped it out. But the people and their ideas didn’t disappear. Scientists see Caral’s influence in cultures that lived long after they were gone. All along the Peruvian coast, there are signs of mounds, circular structures and urban plans similar to those at Caral.

Archaeologists also found a khipu (or quipu) recording device at the site. For thousands of years after Caral’s demise, and throughout the Inca Empire, cultures in the Andes would use this system of knots as a kind of recorded language unlike any other known in the world.

The genetic heritage of the Caral people may also survive even today. A sweeping genetic study of modern Peru, published in Nature in 2013, showed that despite the Spanish influence, people in many regions of the nation can trace their genetic heritage all the way back to the first settlers of South America. It’s a line that runs right through Caral.

3-Billion-Year-Old Spheres Found in South Africa: How Were They Made?

3-Billion-Year-Old Spheres Found in South Africa: How Were They Made?

In the small town of Ottosdal, in central North West Province of South Africa, miners working in pyrophyllite mines have been digging up mysterious metal spheres known as Klerksdorp Spheres.

This dark reddish-brown, somewhat flattened spheres range in size from less than a centimetre to ten centimetres across, and some of them have three parallel grooves running around the equator.

The most striking examples have the uncanny appearance of being something manufactured.  But here is the kicker — these metallic objects have been dated to 3 billion years old, a time when the Earth was too young to host intelligent life capable of creating these spheres.

No wonder, these objects have attracted attention and speculation from not only the scientific community but various fringe groups including creationists and advocates of “ancient astronauts theory”.

Klerksdorp Spheres are often classified as “Out-of-Place Artifacts”, a term coined by an American naturalist and cryptozoologist to indicate objects of historical, archaeological, or paleontological interest found in a very unusual or seemingly impossible context that could challenge conventional historical chronology by being “too advanced” for the level of civilization that existed at the time.

These objects claim to provide evidences that suggest the presence of intelligent beings well before humans were supposed to exist. Klerksdorp Spheres, however, aren’t out-of-place. Neither they are mysterious.

These spheres are actually concretion formed by the precipitation of volcanic sediments, ash, or both after they accumulated 3 billion years ago. Concretions are often ovoid or spherical in shape because of which they are commonly mistaken to be dinosaur eggs, or extraterrestrial debris or human artefacts, in this case.

Examples of calcareous concretions, which exhibit equatorial grooves, found in Schoharie County, New York.

The latitudinal ridges and grooves exhibited by Klerksdorp Spheres are also natural and are known to occur in concretions found elsewhere on earth.

Notable examples include “Moqui marbles” found within the Navajo Sandstone of southern Utah and carbonate concretions found in Schoharie County, New York. Similar concretion as old as 2.8 billion years were also found in Hamersley Group of Australia.

Many false claims have been made regarding these objects. An often-repeated claim is that testing by NASA found the spheres to be so precisely balanced that they could have only been made in zero-gravity.

Not only there is no record of NASA ever saying that the objects aren’t spherical at all as evident from these images.

Another claim is that the spheres are manufactured of a metal “harder than steel”, a statement which is rather meaningless as steel can vary in hardness depending on the type of alloy and treatment.

Specimens of Klerksdorp Spheres are housed in Klerksdorp Museum in Klerksdorp, a city about 70 km away from Ottosdal.

Moqui Marbles, hematite concretions, from the Navajo Sandstone of southeast Utah show similar grooves and shape.
Moeraki Boulders in New Zealand is another example of spherical concretion.

10,800 Years Ago, Early Humans Planted Forest Islands in Amazonia’s Grasslands

10,800 Years Ago, Early Humans Planted Forest Islands in Amazonia’s Grasslands

Thousands of artificial forest islands were built by Amazon’s earliest human settlers as they tamed wild plants to produce food, a new study reveals.

The discovery of the mounds is the latest evidence to show the extensive impact people had on the area. From their arrival 10,000 years ago they transformed the landscape when they began cultivating manioc and squash.

This led to the creation of 4,700 of the forest islands in what is now Llanos de Moxos in northern Bolivia, the team has found.

10,800 Years Ago, Early Humans Planted Forest Islands in Amazonia's Grasslands
An aerial shot of the Llanos de Moxos region in South America shows the strangely isolated mounds of trees that grow among expansive grasslands. Scientists’ explanation for these islands: Ancient humans planted and cultivated crops, making them some of the oldest domesticated plants in history.

This savannah area floods from December to March and is extremely dry from July to October, but the mounds remain above the water level during the rainy season allowing trees to grow on them.

The mounds promoted landscape diversity, and show that small-scale communities began to shape the Amazon 8,000 years earlier than previously thought.

The research confirms this part of the Amazon is one of the earliest centres of plant domestication in the world.

Using microscopic plant silica bodies, called phytoliths, found well preserved in tropical forests, experts have documented the earliest evidence found in the Amazon of manioc -10,350 years ago, squash — 10,250 years ago, and maize — 6,850 years ago.

The plants grown on the forest islands were chosen because they were carbohydrate-rich and easy to cook, and they probably provided a considerable part of the calories consumed by the first inhabitants of the region, supplemented by fish and some meat.

The study, in the journal Nature, was conducted by Umberto Lombardo and Heinz Veit from the University of Bern, Jose Iriarte and Lautaro Hilbert from the University of Exeter, Javier Ruiz-Pérez from Pompeu Fabra University and José Capriles from Pennsylvania State University.

Umberto Lombardo, from the University of Bern, who is one of the researches involved in the study, sampling sediment cores in the Llanos de Moxos savannah.

The study involved an unprecedented large scale regional analysis of 61 archaeological sites, identified by remote sensing, now patches of forest surrounded by savannah. Samples were retrieved from 30 forest islands and archaeological excavations carried out in four of them.

Dr Lombardo said: “Archaeologists, geographers, and biologists have argued for many years that southwestern Amazonia was a probable centre of early plant domestication because many important cultivars like manioc, squash, peanuts and some varieties of chilli pepper and beans are genetically very close to wild plants living here.

However, until this recent study, the scientist had neither searched for nor excavated, old archaeological sites in this region that might document the pre-Columbian domestication of these globally important crops.”

Professor Iriarte said: “Genetic and archaeological evidence suggests there were at least four areas of the world where humans domesticated plants around 11,000 years ago, two in the Old World and two in the New World. This research helps us to prove South West Amazonia is likely the fifth.

“The evidence we have found shows the earliest inhabitants of the area were not just tropical hunter-gatherers, but colonizers who cultivated plants. This opens the door to suggest that they already ate a mixed diet when they arrived in the region.”

Forest islands are seen from above

Javier Ruiz-Pérez said: “Through an extensive archaeological survey including excavations and after analysing dozens of radiocarbon dates and phytolith samples, we demonstrated that pre-Columbian peoples adapted to and modified the seasonally flooded savannahs of south-western Amazonia by building thousands of mounds where to settle and by cultivating and even domesticating plants since the beginning of the Holocene.”

30,000-Year-Old Sacsayhuamán Secret Writing Method Discovered

30,000-Year-Old Sacsayhuamán Secret Writing Method Discovered

A researcher has suggested a highly thought-provoking theory that the fabulous Sacsayhuamán temple in Peru might involve secret 30 000-year-old writing. A discovery of this magnitude could easily re-write not only our understanding of the Stone Age but also world history.

In our article “Sacsayhuamán – Was It Built By ‘Demons’ Or Viracocha The Bearded God?” we examined the walls built by stones that our gigantic modern machinery could hardly move and put in place. Sacsayhuamán, located on the outskirts of the ancient Inca capital city of Cuzco is one of the most impressive and mysterious fortresses of the Andes.

Sacsayhuamán is still shrouded in mystery. The question of how the Sacsayhuamán stones have been transported remains unanswered. Will the corners of the stones maybe throw more light on the enigma of Sacsayhuamán? Dr. Derek Cunningham, a researcher has put forward a controversial and highly intriguing theory.

30,000-Year-Old Sacsayhuamán Secret Writing Method Discovered
The Sacsayhuamán complex

Based on his studies of the Sacsayhuamán complex, he concluded that the curious angles formed by these stones reveal ancient Inca knowledge of astronomical alignments of the moon, sun, and the earth, as well as knowledge of lunar and solar eclipses.

This should perhaps not be so surprising because many ancient temples were astronomically aligned. However, what Dr. Cunningham is suggesting is unorthodox because his hypothesis revolves around the thought that our ancient ancestors developed ‘writing’ at least 30,000 years ago from a geometrical form of text that is based on the motion of the moon and the sun.

He asserts that such ancient astronomical text, identical to that seen at Sacsayhuamán, is also found in both Lascaux and Chauvet caves in Europe, the African carved Ishango tally bone, and a circa 30,000-year-old carved stone found at the Shuidonggou Paleolithic Site in China.

Dr. Cunningham became interested in Sacsayhuamán when he first noted a series of unusual ground patterns located close to some Scottish sites.

This discovery drove him on to look at other ancient sites hoping to find some similarities and he did. He discovered that the Sacsayhuamán stone angles reveal something extraordinary.

“Each astronomical value (there are 9 standard values in total) was chosen by ancient astronomers to aid the prediction of eclipses. These astronomical terms are a mixture of values astronomers use to measure time (the 27.32-day sidereal month) and values to determine when the moon, earth, and sun align at nodes.

This includes the use of the 18.6-year nodal cycle of the moon, the 6.511 draconic months period between eclipse seasons, and also the 5.1-degree angle of inclination of the moon’s orbit.

The remaining values typically are either half-values of various lunar terms or values connected to the 11-day difference between the lunar and solar years,” Dr. Cunningham says.

Dr. Cunningham believes that scientists should focus their attention on the hidden writing discovered at Sacsayhuamán. “Now, substantial evidence has also been discovered that this archaic writing was used, perhaps almost continuously, until 500 years ago,” states Cunningham.

“Recently the analysis of the Muisca Tunjo figurines from Columbia uncovered evidence that they were constructed to the exact same astronomical design as Bronze Age figurines uncovered in Cyprus.

This discovery of such possible “recent” use of a Stone Age text thus prompted me to take a new look at circa 15th to 16th century Inca architecture, which is famous for its fabulous over-complex interlocking walls.

The question I asked was could the massive polygonal walls of Sacsayhuamán align to the exact same astronomical values used in the Columbian Muiscan figurines and the Atacama Giant of Chile? The surprising result is yes.”

“What is powerful about this new theory is that it is very simple and easy to test,” adds Cunningham.

“Further work is of course required. Satellite images cannot clearly take the place of direct fieldwork, and photographs placed online may have become distorted, but so far the data obtained appear highly consistent.” Dr. Cunningham is not afraid of criticism. “I honestly do not care whether I am right or wrong about this,” he concludes.

“All I have found so far is that the data is what it is. The potential of the idea to explain some things about so many sites from the pyramids of Egypt to the Atacama Giant in Chile is obviously very controversial, and it should be. But if correct, it could rewrite some aspects of our understanding of not only the Stone Age but also world history. If, on the other hand, scholars prove this specific astronomical theory wrong, then we can move on, knowing that it has been sufficiently tested.

A bizarre chicken-sized dinosaur named lord of the spear is discovered in Brazil

A bizarre chicken-sized dinosaur named lord of the spear is discovered in Brazil

With a mane of yellow and brown fur down its back and long ‘needles’ growing from its shoulders, a peacock-like elaborate dinosaur has been identified. The neck spines of the creature are rare in the fossil record and made of keratin, which is the same protein that makes up parts of our hair, nails and skin. Dubbed Ubirajara jubatus, indigenous Indian for ‘Maned Lord of the Spear’

Experts led from the University of Portsmouth believe the flamboyant spines may have been used to impress prospective mates, and that the dinosaur may have indulged in ‘elaborate dancing’ to show them off.

The needle-like displays were positioned so they would not impede the dinosaur’s arms and legs — and would not have stopped it from hunting, preening or sending signals.

Ubirajara jubatus lived around 110 million years ago, during the Cretaceous period, the researchers explained. The new species was originally unearthed in 1995 in the Chapada do Araripe in north-eastern Brazil, and was found among the collections of the State Museum of Natural History in Karlsruhe, Germany.  The find could explain where birds like peacocks inherited their ability to show off, the team said. Birds are the modern descendants of dinosaurs. 

‘What is especially unusual about the beast is the presence of two very long, probably stiff ribbons on either side of its shoulders,’ said paper author and palaeontologist David Martill of the University of Portsmouth. These, he explained, ‘were probably used for display, for mate attraction, inter-male rivalry or to frighten off foes.’

‘We cannot prove the specimen is a male, but given the disparity between male and female birds, it appears likely the specimen was a male — and young, too, which is surprising given most complex display abilities are reserved for mature adult males.’

‘Given its flamboyance, we can imagine that the dinosaur may have indulged in elaborate dancing to show off its display structures.’

‘These are such extravagant features for such a small animal — and not at all what we would predict if we only had the skeleton preserved,’ said paper author and palaeontologist Robert Smyth, also of the University of Portsmouth.

‘Why adorn yourself in a way that makes you more obvious to both your prey and to potential predators?’ he mused. The truth is that for many animals, evolutionary success is about more than just surviving — you also have to look good if you want to pass your genes on to the next generation.’

‘Modern birds are famed for their elaborate plumage and displays that are used to attract mates — the peacock’s tail and male birds-of-paradise are textbook examples of this.’

‘Ubirajara shows us that this tendency to show off is not a uniquely avian characteristic, but something that birds inherited from their dinosaur ancestors.’

Experts led from Portsmouth found the new species — originally unearthed in 1995 — among the collections of the State Museum of Natural History in Karlsruhe. Pictured, the two slabs of the Ubirajara jubatus specimen, in photograph (top row) and illustration (bottom)
Dubbed Ubirajara jubatus — indigenous Indian for ‘Maned Lord of the Spear’ — the creature’s neck spines are unique in the fossil record and made of keratin. This is the very same protein that make up parts of our hair, nails and skin. Pictured, an illustration of Ubirajara jubatus skeleton, with the fur and spines highlighted in orange

The fossil specimen of Ubirajara jubatus sports a section of extremely-well preserved mane. Long and thick, this would have run down the animal’s back. The researchers believe that the mane would have been manipulated by muscles — allowing it to be lifted, much like a dog raises its hackles when it feels threatened.  Ubirajara would have been able to lower the mane flush to its skin when not putting on a display, allowing it to move fast without getting tangled in vegetation. 

Its arms were also covered in fur, the team noted.

‘Any creature with movable hair or feathers as a body coverage has a great advantage in streamlining the body contour for faster hunts or escapes but also to capture or release heat,’ explained Professor Martill.

‘We know lots of dinosaurs had bony crests, spines and frills that were probably used for display but we don’t see these very often in living birds,’ said Mr Smyth.

‘In birds, crests are made of feathers. This little dinosaur provides some insight into why this might be the case.’ Bone requires a lot of energy for a body to grow and maintain. It’s also heavy and can cause serious injury if broken,’ he continued.

Keratin — the material that makes up hair, feathers and scales — is a much better display alternative for a small animal like this one. Keratin is less costly for a body to produce, it’s also lightweight, flexible and can be regularly replaced if damaged.’

‘Ubirajara is the most primitive known dinosaur to possess integumentary [external] display structures. It represents a revolution in dinosaur communication, the effects of which we can still see today in living birds.’

The specimen was originally excavated by palaeontologist Eberhard Frey of the State Museum of Natural History Karlsruhe. It came out of the ground in two pieces. X-ray scans revealed previously hidden skeletal elements and soft tissue, from which the researchers were able to build a clearer picture of Ubirajara in life. Ubirajara jubatus is the first non-avian dinosaur to be discovered in a fossil-rich rock formation known to geologists as the Crato Formation.

At the time this was being deposited, the South Atlantic was opening up in a long narrow shallow sea, which accounts for the exquisite preservation of Ubirajara. The find is also important for the Americas, explained paper author and palaeontologist Hector Rivera Sylva, who curates the Desert Museum, in Mexico.

Ubirajara jubatus lived around 110 million years ago, during the Cretaceous period, the researchers explained. Pictured, a close up of the small dinosaur’s fossilised remains

‘The Ubirajara jubatus is not only important because of the integumentary structures present for the first time in a non-avian dinosaur — completely changing the way of seeing the behaviour of certain dinosaurs,’ he added.

Rather, the find provides ‘the first evidence for this group in Latin America, as well as one of the few reported for the subcontinent of Gondwana,’ he explained.

This, he added, expands our ‘knowledge about non-avian feathered dinosaurs [in] America, whose evidence is very scarce.’ The full findings of the study were published in the journal Cretaceous Research.

Infants from 2100 years ago found with helmets made of children’s skulls

Infants from 2100 years ago found with helmets made of children’s skulls

According to the new study, two babies from ancient South American burial mounds have been discovered wearing helmets made from the skulls of other infants.

Skulls and other objects excavated at burial sites on the coast of Ecuador.

As researchers tell in their report published earlier this month in the science journal, Latin American Antiquity, this is the first recorded evidence of ancient people using children’s skulls as burial headgear anywhere in the world.

Excavations on Ecuador’s coast from 2014 to 2016 discovered the bodies of 11 people in ancient burial mounds, including two adults, one young person, and four infants. Around the burials, small artefacts and shells were discovered.

But it was two of the infants wearing skull “helmets” found in two burial mounds dated to approximately 100 BC that really grabbed attention.

The research — led by University of North Carolina at Charlotte assistant professor Sara Juengst — found that one baby was 18 months old at the time of death, and was wearing parts of the skull of another child aged between four and 12 years old.

The skull was placed in a “helmet-like fashion around the head of the first, such that the primary individual’s face looked through,” the researchers said. A small shell and a child’s finger bone was found between the skull “helmet” and the infant’s head.

Items found during excavations of ancient burial sites on the coast of Ecuador.

The other infant was aged between six and nine months old and was wearing skull fragments of a child aged between two and 12 years old.

Researchers said the skull “helmets” likely still had flesh on them when they were put on the infants’ heads, as children’s skulls often don’t hold together.

The story behind the skull ‘helmets’

In the study, researchers acknowledged that there were a number of questions remaining. They did not know whose skulls had been turned into “helmets” — or why two babies were wearing “helmets” while others were not.

But the researchers noted that detached heads were “symbolically important” in South America, and dead children were often given special treatment in death.

“The human head was a potent symbol for many South American cultures,” the study found.

The researchers speculated that the skull “helmets” could have been an attempt to protect the babies’ souls — a theory that they said was given weight by the figurines found around the burial site.

The area had been hit by volcanic ashfall before the burial, the study said.

“A tantalizing hypothesis is that this bodily stress is related to the volcanic ash fall that preceded these burials, and that the treatment of the two infants was part of a larger, complex ritual response to environmental consequences of the eruption,” the researchers said. “More evidence is needed to confirm this.”

The researchers also noted that there was no evidence of the tomb being reopened or manipulated after the initial burial.

Previous studies have uncovered details of burial rites of ancient civilizations of South America.

Earlier this year, archaeologists in Peru found the remains of around 250 children sacrificed by the pre-Colombian Chimu civilization.

Lidar Reveals Network of Ancient Villages in Brazil’s Rainforest

Lidar Reveals Network of Ancient Villages in Brazil’s Rainforest

Jose Iriarte and Mark Robinson of the University of Exeter and their multinational team of scientists explored Brazil’s southern Acre State with Lidar remote sensing equipment, according to a statement issued by the University of Exeter, and revealed a sequence of more than 35 villages dating from A.D. 1300 to 1700 in the thick vegetation of the Amazon.

This is further evidence the rainforest has long-been occupied by indigenous communities, whose cultures rose, fell, transformed, and rose again, long before Europeans made an impact in the Americas.

The research shows after the abandonment of the large geometrically patterned ceremonial earthworks, around AD 950, a new culture arose with communities living in mounded villages with highly defined concepts of social and architectural space.  

Lidar scanning the forest
Lidar scanning the forest.

The circular mound villages are connected across the wider landscape through paired sunken roads with high banks that radiate from the village circle like the marks of a clock or the rays of the sun.

The villages have both minor roads and principal roads, which were deeper and wider with higher banks. Most villages have paired cardinally orientated principal roads, two leaving in a northward direction and two leaving in a southward direction.

The survey reveals that the straight roads often connect one village to another, creating a network of communities over many kilometres.

Deforestation in the region had previously revealed the presence of large geoglyph earthworks on the landscape with archaeological research also documenting the presence of circular mound villages.

However, until now the extent of earthwork constructions, their architectural layouts, and their regional organisation remained hidden beneath the remaining dense tropical forest.

Experts from the UK and South America used a RIEGL VUX-1 UAV Lidar sensor integrated into an MD 500 helicopter to document architectural features below the forest canopy, revealing a more complex and spatially organised landscape than previously thought.

Lidar Reveals Network of Ancient Villages in Brazil’s Rainforest

Over 35 villages and dozens of roads were documented in the research with many more predicted to still be hidden below the unexplored jungle.

The villages were composed of 3 to 32 mounds arranged in a circle, the diameter of which ranged from 40 m to 153 m with the area enclosed by the central plaza ranging from ~0.12 to 1.8 ha.

The research was carried out by Jose Iriarte, and Mark Robinson from the University of Exeter; Jonas Gregorio de Souza from Universitat Pompeu Fabra; Antonia Damasceno and Franciele da Silva from the Instituto do Patrimônio Histórico e Artístico Nacional; Francisco Nakahara from the Federal University of Pará; Alceu Ranzi from the Federal University of Acre and Luiz Aragao from the Brazil National Institute for Space Research.

The findings are published in a paper in the Journal of Computer Applications in Archaeology and footage of Jose Iriarte and Ella Al-Shamahi locating the village on foot, can be seen on the programme Jungle Mystery: Lost Kingdoms of the Amazon on Channel 4 at 6.30 pm on 5th December.

Professor Iriarte said: “Lidar has allowed us to detect these villages, and their features such as roads, which wasn’t possible before because most are not visible within the best satellite data available. The technology helps to show diverse and complex construction history of this part of the Amazon.

“Lidar provides a new opportunity to locate and document earthen sites in forested parts of Amazonia characterized by dense vegetation. It can also document the smallest surficial earthen features in the recently opened pasture areas.”

Tens of Thousands of ice age Paintings across a cliff face shed light on people and animals from 12,500 years ago

Tens of Thousands of ice age Paintings across a cliff face shed light on people and animals from 12,500 years ago

In the Colombian jungle, archaeologists have found tens of thousands of ancient drawings dating back about 12,500 years. This prehistoric depictions of animals and humans have been discovered adorning cliff faces that stretch for almost eight miles. On top of that, some depict long-extinct ice age animals.

Archaeologists were shocked to discover numerous human handprints on the site, according to the Daily Mail. Funded by the European Research Council, the British-Colombian team had no idea what awaited them in the Chiribiquete National Park — but is now finally ready to share the remarkable discovery with the world.

Pictures of animals such as mastodons and paleo lamas, the extinct ancestors of elephants and camels, were perhaps the most exciting.  The cliff face art also includes giant sloths and ice age horses, all of which were clearly seen and painted by some of the first humans to ever reach the Amazon.

Tens of Thousands of ice age Paintings across a cliff face shed light on people and animals from 12,500 years ago
Many of the paintings are so high up that drones are needed to view them.

According to The Guardian, the find has been aptly lauded as “the Sistine Chapel of the ancients.” Based on the sheer scale and plethora of paintings, experts say it’ll take generations to properly analyze. While it was uncovered last year, the find was kept secret for a documentary set to air on Britain’s Channel 4 in December.

“When you’re there, your emotions flow…We’re talking about several tens of thousands of paintings,” said lead archaeologist José Iriarte, professor of archaeology at Exeter University. “It’s going to take generations to record them…Every turn you do, it’s a new wall of paintings.”

The site is so remote that it took experts a two-hour drive from Chiribiquete National Park to Serranía de la Lindosa — followed by a four-hour hike to reach it. After this long journey, the team was awed to discover such extensive paintings.

Regional natives of the Amazon didn’t keep written records until fairly recently. With a humid climate and high levels of acid in the soil, nearly every trace of their tangible presence — including human remains — have been lost. Most about the region’s history before 1,500 has been inferred from ceramics and arrowheads.

Most native tribes of the Amazon are believed to have descended from the first prehistoric group of migrants to cross the Bering Land Bridge around 17,000 years ago. The discovery is thus sure to shed unprecedented light on various aspects of their culture.

The remarkable handprints are estimated to be as old as 12,500 years.

“We started seeing animals that are now extinct,” said Iriarte. “The pictures are so natural and so well made that we have few doubts that you’re looking at a horse, for example. The ice-age horse had a wild, heavy face. It’s so detailed, we can even see the horsehair. It’s fascinating.”

While it’s yet unclear exactly which tribe was responsible for the uncovered art, there are some preliminary wagers at hand. Both the Yanomami and Kayapo tribes have been around for thousands of years and appear to be likely candidates.

Of course, not everything worth doing is easy — and the region’s more hostile factors rapidly made that clear for Iriarte and his team. Ella Al-Shamahi, presenter of the upcoming Channel 4 documentary series Jungle Mystery: Lost Kingdoms of the Amazon, spoke about these hidden threats.

Caimans are everywhere, and we did keep our wits about us with snakes,” she said, recalling a giant bushmaster, “the deadliest snake in the Americans with an 80 per cent mortality rate” which the team encountered in the dead of night. “You’re in the middle of nowhere.”

Al-Shamahi recalled having to navigate both deadly animals and guerrillas to reach the site.

Unfortunately, there was another lethal threat abounding in the jungle not to be taken lightly — the FARC. Colombia suffered decades of civil war between these guerrillas and the government, with a shaky truce and heavy militant presence in the jungles not particularly calming.

Fortunately, they allowed the experts entry.

“When we entered Farc territory, it was exactly as a few of us have been screaming about for a long time,” said Al-Shamahi. “Exploration is not over. Scientific discovery is not over but the big discoveries now are going to be found in places that are disputed or hostile.”

It was only last week that evidence of ancient hallucinogenic rituals was uncovered in California. It seems these Colombian tribes engaged in the same, as paintings of psychoactive plants were also found on the walls.

“For Amazonian people, non-humans like animals and plants have souls, and they communicate and engage with people in cooperative or hostile ways through rituals and shamanic practices that we see depicted in the rock art,” said Iriarte.

The research will continue as pandemic-centric regulations loosen.

“It’s interesting to see that many of these large animals appear surrounded by small men with their arms raised, almost worshipping these animals,” added Iriarte.

For Al-Shamahi, one of the more intriguing aspects was the height of some of these illustrations. They were so elevated that they could only be viewed with camera-drones and some depicted wooden towers with figures bungee jumping off of them. Still, the historical context blew her away more than anything.

“One of the most fascinating things was seeing ice age megafauna because that’s a marker of time. I don’t think people realize that Amazon has shifted in the way it looks. It hasn’t always been this rainforest. When you look at a horse or mastodon in these paintings, of course, they weren’t going to live in a forest.”

“They’re too big. Not only are they giving clues about when they were painted by some of the earliest people — that in itself is just mind-boggling — but they are also giving clues about what this very spot might have looked like: more savannah-like.”

As it stands, the COVID-19 pandemic has put a damper on continued research here. Fortunately for us, we’ll get to see these initial discoveries up close when the documentary series airs its episode on the matter on Dec. 12.