by Tim Brinkhof
(Credit: Wikipedia / Public domain)
may well have required the greatest amount
of skilled labor of any construction
from the same
time period in the entire continent.
This assumption was based
on the simple fact that the land surrounding the basin experiences
severe flooding during rainy seasons, making permanent settlement
without the aid of advanced technology all but impossible.
Over 20 years ago, he set out with his colleague Carla Jaimes Betancourt - then a student studying in La Paz - to investigate two mounds located near the village of Casarabe in northern Bolivia.
The mounds, a university press release recalls,
In other words:
Subsequent studies confirmed Prümers' suspicion.
These agriculturalists, named the Casarabe culture, could be found throughout northern Bolivia during the Late Holocene epoch.
Their home turf was the Llanos de Mojos, a tropical savannah that spans more than 4,500 square km.
We know they engaged in agriculture as well as aquaculture, and used water-control systems to protect themselves from the Amazon basin. We also know that their society had a surprisingly complex sociopolitical organization, with trade flowing back and forth between economic bases.
They not only made
mounds, but also dug canals, ditches, and causeways.
Prümers' team surveyed an area of 204 square km, concentrating on major excavation sites.
The researchers then
organized the settlements into five distinct categories, based on
the dimensions of their architecture, the scale of water management
infrastructure, and the number of causeways leading to and from the
sites, among other factors.
in northern Bolivia, a tropical wetland.
(Credit: NASA / Wikipedia)
Named Cotoca and Landíva, they span more than 100 hectares and are surrounded by moats and ramparts.
Both Cotoca and Landíva were constructed around large complexes of civic and ceremonial architecture.
Lidar scans revealed that these complexes were built to face north-northwest. This, according to the paper, probably reflects an as of yet unknown cosmological view that might also be present in the uniform orientation of the Casarabe culture's burial mounds.
Certainly, this practice would be consistent with other pre-Columbian civilizations, including the Mayans and Olmecs.
These so-called secondary sites also feature civic-ceremonial architecture built upon base platforms. Settlements belonging to the third and fourth categories are smaller still, spanning 2.5 and 0.34 hectares, respectively.
The fifth category is a
hypothetical one, containing settlements without mounded
architecture that could not be detected by lidar.
The eastern region of the Llanos de Mojos is significantly denser than the other regions, with the average distance between settlements dropping to between roughly 1.8 and 4.0 km.
Most settlements were
organized in clusters of 100-500 square km and connected via
causeways and canals.
with these man-made causeways,
which once connected Casarabe settlements.
(Credit: Bruno Roux / Wikipedia)
From Cotoca, specifically, canals radiate,
One of these canals, which leads to Laguna San José, is more than 7 km in length.
This impressive feat of engineering underscores the importance of Cotoca, which served as the center of an area of 500 square km.
The Casarabe culture occupies a special place in the history of archaeological excavations in Latin America.
While major pre-Columbian settlements like Cotoca and Landíva are not unique, the same cannot be said for the many smaller settlements the lidar scans brought into view.
According to Prümers and Betancourt's study, these places represent,
The largest Amazon settlements also compare favorably to other ancient cities found in South America.
That is to say, they are of a much larger scale than the settlements built along the Andes mountains as well as southern Amazonia in general.
Indeed, the architecture
found in both Cotoca and Landíva may well have required the greatest
amount of skilled labor of any construction from the same time
period in the entire continent.