Laser imaging technology has identified a vast network of ancient cities in today’s Bolivian Amazon

The use of air LiDAR technology has allowed scientists to identify a vast network of urban settlements in the Bolivian Amazon.

According to an article published in the magazine yesterday nature26 interconnected sites were built in the Casarabe culture, which covered an area of ​​2,800 square miles from 500 to 1,400 CE

Dense tropical forests have made it logistically difficult for researchers to find long-term evidence of these settlements. Scientists now have an image from a bird’s eye view and, using data captured by LiDAR, also known as light detection and ranging, have been able to digitally remove forest vegetation and create a comprehensive model of the main terrain.

Two already known sites, Landivar and Cotoca, have been shown to be major urban centers, fortified with concentric polygonal ditches and connected to smaller, more remote settlements by roads up to several miles long.

Other discovered structures include monumental civil-ceremonial architecture such as stepped platforms, platform mounds, and conical pyramids up to 72 feet high. The complex water management system includes reservoirs and canals connecting to the rivers.

Riegl VUX-1 scanner with Trimble APX-15 UAV GNSS attached to the Eurocopter AS350 helicopter. Photo courtesy of H. Prümers / DAI.

In recent years, the LiDAR remote sensing method has been used to capture hidden archaeological sites around the world. From a height of 650 feet above the forest, the launched beam bounced back and captured the distance from who it touched. This large amount of data points was then connected to computers to create high-resolution, detailed maps.

The degree in landscape engineering carried out by Casabre shows that large sections of the present-day forest may once have been savannah before the arrival of the Europeans. Pre-Spanish agrarian civilizations have been shown to live in a network of low-density urban settlements, refuting the idea that this region of the Amazon was once sparsely populated. It also challenges Western perceptions of the Amazon as an untouched desert.

The project was a joint effort of the German Institute of Archeology, the University of Bonn, the University of Exeter and the Bolivian Ministry of Multilateral State Planning.

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Godfrey Kemp

"Bacon fanatic. Social media enthusiast. Music practitioner. Internet scholar. Incurable travel advocate. Wannabe web junkie. Coffeeaholic. Alcohol fanatic."

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