Was the Amazon Rainforest Once Home to A Massive Lost Civilization?
There is a hill in the Amazon rainforest that stretches out over two acres of land. It is called Montegrande and, to look at it, it seems like nothing more than another hill. A particularly steep one perhaps, but nothing more than an overgrown mound of earth. For centuries, it was ignored, and, in time, as Peru’s cities and towns stretched further out in the Amazon, farmers even set up their homes on top of it.
Then they started to dig. As the farmers worked the land, they started to uncover sherds of old pots. These, they soon learned, were more than old utensils. These were relics of the past, and they were more than 1,000 years old.
Their homes became an archaeological site. In 2010, archaeologist Quirino Olivera and his team started digging into the Montegrande hill, and soon discovered what they were excavating wasn’t a hill at all. It was a massive pyramid, built by a forgotten civilization in the Amazon rainforest – and it was over 3,000 years old.
- Hundreds of Amazonian Geoglyphs Resembling Stonehenge Challenge Perceptions of Human Intervention in the Rainforest
- Genetic studies link indigenous peoples in the Amazon and Australasia
- Megaliths Discovered in Brazil May Be an Amazonian Stonehenge Created By an Advanced Ancient Civilization
Montegrande archaeological site, Peru. ( Quirino Oliveria Nuñez )
The Empty Amazon Theory
The pyramid at Montegrande changed everything. Here, for the first time, was hard proof that ancient civilizations had thrived in the Amazon rainforest.
Ancient civilizations had certainly flourished in South America, but, up until recently, it had been believed that the Amazon itself was a place few dared to tread for long. The few people who lived there in ancient times, archaeologists believed, were sparsely separated, nomadic people. They would wander from place to place, setting up the odd short-lived farm before moving on.
When the Spanish conquistadors arrived in South America, they wrote stories about massive towns in the Amazon full of farms and supporting whole fleets of boats – but there’d never been anything to back up what they were saying. Every piece of archaeological evidence we could find suggested that no one in the Amazon had stayed still long enough to build a home.
Discoveries like Montegrande, though, are changing the history of a nation. Now it’s believed that, at its peak, there may have been as a many as 5 million people living in the Amazon. They built civilizations and cultures that are completely forgotten to time. The only way we’ll ever know who these people were is by sifting through their bones.
Skeleton and shells found at the Montegrande site. (Fomento a la Inversión Privada y Turismo-JAEN )
A Forgotten Civilization
The people who built the Montegrande, the archaeologists have since learned, had an incredibly sophisticated society . They didn’t just build one pyramid and leave. They first built it in 1,000 BC, but they reworked it and rebuilt it at least eight times. Before their empire ended, they had lived in that one spot for more than a thousand years.
By the end, they were building six-foot (1.83-meter) walls to protect their people and setting up offices where rulers governed their people. They built a grid of homes across the riverbank, had an elaborate religion of their own, and were part of an elaborate trade network the stretched across modern Peru.
They have a whole millennium of history that’s only hinted at in their remains. What we know is only scraped together from their ruins, but the massive pyramids they left behind are enough to give an incredible glimpse into their religion.
Illustration of ancient city in the Amazon, licensed for reuse. ( TheRavens)
The Spiral Temple
At the top of the mound is a spiral of rocks, coiled in the shape of a massive snake or, perhaps, in the swirl of the shell of a snail. You could walk along the spiral like you were making your way through a labyrinth. Every step would take you further down below the ground until you reached the center, forty feet (12.19 meters) below the first step.
At the center of the spiral, the people who once lived here burned fires. These were likely sacred fires, used for some religious purpose – and there’s reason to think it involved drugs.
Archaeologists have found snuff spoons and mortar grinders still holding the residue of hallucinogenic vilca seeds. These seeds didn’t grow where they lived – they were imported, and getting their hands on these things might just be the reason this civilization created such an elaborate trade network.