Adventurers have long scoured Brazil’s vast Amazon rainforest for traces of hidden cities buried deep in the jungle. But new research shows the country’s dense and inhospitable jungles were once home to an intricate network of towns and roads built by one of the world’s earliest urban civilisations.
“These places were far more organised than your average medieval town,” anthropologist Professor Mike Heckenberger, from the University of Florida, said.
The paper, co-written with a team of Brazilian anthropologists and one local indigenous leader and published in the journal Science, contains evidence that the Xingu region in the Brazilian state of Mato Grosso was home to thousands of native Indians spread across dozens of towns and villages.
The settlements — which are thought to date back at least 1,500 years and are described by the authors as “garden cities” — were constructed around a central plaza and flanked by walls.
Mr. Heckenberger said the Amazon settlements were not “full-blown cities” but rather “super or mega-villages” and towns, connected by a sophisticated grid of roads. He first came across traces of this Amazonian urbanism in 1993 while living with the Kuikuro tribe in the remote Xingu park, a vast rainforest reservation.
In 2002, he returned and, using GPS technology and the traditional knowledge of the indigenous communities, his team began mapping the settlements.
The study suggests some truth in the theories of explorers such as the Briton, Percy Fawcett, who set out to find a lost city in Xingu in 1925 but was never seen again. Instead of “garden cities,” he “was looking for stone cities, he was looking for Athens,” said Mr. Heckenberger.
As to what happened to the inhabitants, Mr. Heckenberger believed Xingu’s towns and villages had been “crushed” by colonialism and particularly disease. — © Guardian Newspapers Limited, 2008
6 months ago