The Amazon valley looked like so many others, with a muddy river snaking through dense forest, except that this one had earthen mounds rising at clear right angles and ditches carving long straight lines through the soil.

In this rainforest, archaeologists say, lay the bones of sprawling ancient cities: earthworks that were once roads, canals, plazas and platforms for homes where thousands of people had lived for centuries, long before Europeans ever tried to chart South America.

The cluster of interconnected cities was only recently mapped in the Upano Valley of eastern Ecuador, a research team reported this month in the journal Science, working off decades of research and laser-mapping technology that has helped to revolutionize archaeology.

With the technology, called lidar, researchers were able to pierce the forest cover and map the ground below it, documenting five major settlements and 10 secondary sites across more than 115 square miles.


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