Rediscovering the Lost Empire of Upano
Amazon's Hidden Marvels: Lost Cities of Upano Speak
"Have you ever wondered about the real history of the Amazon?" asked archaeologist Stéphen Rostain. What followed was a revelation that shook established narratives. Rostain's decades-long study1, unveiled recently, exposed an extensive network of cities hidden deep within the Ecuadorean Amazon, challenging our understanding of this vast rain forest.
The Enigma of Urban Amazonia
Using Lidar technology, the team uncovered a sprawling urban landscape, challenging the conventional image of the Amazon as a pristine wilderness. More than 6,000 rectangular earthen platforms, homes, and ceremonial sites hinted at a sophisticated society that predates any other known Amazonian complex by over a millennium.
Roads Carved in Earth's Tapestry
The marvel didn't stop at the cities. What astonished Rostain and team were the impeccably straight roads connecting these ancient hubs. Why engineer such roads through mountainous terrain? Was it more than just a means of travel? Were they symbolic imprints of identity and connection to the Earth, echoing the Inca's living roads?
From Catastrophe to Cultural Resilience
These ancient Amazonians' structured society, demonstrated by drained fields and terraces, mirrored practices still alive in Indigenous cultures today. Their agricultural techniques, cultivating staples like beans and maize, remain embedded in modern practices. The landscape, marked by volcanic soil, served as a cradle for civilization and could have dictated its sudden end.
Awaiting the Future Tourists
Though a hidden gem now, Rostain believes that, like Machu Picchu, these cities will one day draw tourists. The breathtaking landscape, with the Upano River and the towering Sangay volcano, adds to the allure. As he aptly puts it, "You have to be patient. It's still very much a forgotten place with very few tourists."
Ecuador's Rome: A Source of Pride
This discovery, Rostain feels, gives Ecuador a historical identity comparable to Peru's. In the midst of modern challenges, it's a source of pride. "Ecuador didn't have their Rome, and now I think they've got it," he expresses with a sense of fulfillment.
In conclusion, the lost cities of Upano emerge not just as archaeological wonders but as threads connecting the present to a rich, ancient tapestry. The Amazon, a canvas of forgotten stories, is slowly revealing its chapters, inviting us to rewrite our understanding of history.
Rostain, S., Dorison, A., de Saulieu, G., Prümers, H., Le Pennec, J.-L., Mejía Mejía, F., Freire, A. M., Pagán-Jiménez, J. R., & Descola, P. (2024). Two thousand years of garden urbanism in the Upper Amazon. Science (New York, N.Y.), 383(6679), 183–189. https://doi.org/10.1126/science.adi6317