They aren't the lost cities early explorers sought fruitlessly to discover.
But ancient settlements in the Amazon, now almost entirely obscured by tropical forest, were once large and complex enough to be considered "urban" as the term is commonly applied to both medieval European and ancient Greek communities.
So says a paper set to appear Friday in Science co-authored by anthropologists from the University of Florida and Brazil, and a member of the Kuikuro, an indigenous Amazonian people who are the descendants of the settlements' original inhabitants.
"If we look at your average medieval town or your average Greek polis, most are about the scale of those we find in this part of the Amazon," said Mike Heckenberger, a UF professor of anthropology and the lead author of the paper. "Only the ones we find are much more complicated in terms of their planning."
The paper also argues that the size and scale of the settlements in the southern Amazon in North Central Brazil means that what many scientists have considered virgin tropical forests are in fact heavily influenced by historic human activity.
There's a LOT in that little article from the definition of what 'cities' are to what this means for ecological models that use the current landscape as 'pristine'. That latter isn't really new, but this ought to broaden the hypothesis beyond the Maya areas. I should be getting that issue tomorrow, too.