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No. 132: NOV-DEC 2000

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Earthmovers of the Amazon

In South America, most archeologists gravitate to the highlands of the Andes to study the grand cities, roads, and geoforms constructed by the Inca, the Nazca, the Tiahuanacans, and other ancient cultures. Many coffee-table-type volumes are filled with glorious color photos resulting from such research. Much-too-neglected is the Amazon Basin. The belief is widespread that there is nothing of great archeological importance there -- just oppressive jungle, biting bugs, and primitive tribes. That there is much of scientific significance hidden under the lush greenery is just now being realized.

For example, A.C. Roosevelt has already proven that surpringly advanced cultures did inhabit the Amazon Basin for thousands of years. (SF#71) We are now learning that some of these Amazon peoples were extraordinary earthmovers. Having little stone to work with, they matched the achievements of the Inca in the mountains just to the west with many miles of earthen causeways. Canals just as long were dedicated to fish-farming. Huge mounds rising above the flood plains supported villages. Even the mounds hold mysteries. One of them, named Ibibate, has been described by anthropologist W. Balee as being:

...as close to a Mayan pyramid as you'll see in South America.... Beneath the forest cover is a 60-foot [18-meter] human-made artifact.

Ibibate is only one of many such mounds in the Bolivian Amazon. Called "lomas", they are obviously quite distinct from any Mayan pyramid we know of. Rather, the lomas are enormous islands of pottery sherds mixed with black soil. Hundreds of these mounds prove that a large population once occupied this region of Bolivia called the Llanos de Mojos (Plains of Mojos).

Anthropologist C.L. Erickson and a team from the University of Pennsylvania have discovered that the Llanos de Mojos once supported a Precolumbian complex of societies linked together by networks of communication, trade, and alliances. Erickson asserts that these cultures erected:

...thousands of linear kilometers of artificial earthen causeways and canals,... large urban settlements, and intensive farming systems.

Indeed, aerial photographs of this immense region show patterns of canals and causeways that stretch from horizon to horizon. This is truly a remarkable, virtually unexplored region of ancient human endeavor.

Even the geology of the region staggers the imagination. The Llanos de Mojos is a shelf of alluvial deposits 3,000 meters (2 miles) deep! (Mann, Charles C.; "Earthmovers of the Amazon, Science, 287:786, 2000.)

Comment. The earth-and-water cultures of the Llanos de Mojos should be compared to the "hydraulic civilization" of ancient Sri Lanka. (MSC7-X3 in Ancient Infrastructure)

From Science Frontiers #132, NOV-DEC 2000. 2000 William R. Corliss

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