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The new paper reports that the settlements consisted of clusters of 150-acre towns and smaller villages organized in spread out "galactic" patterns.
None of the large towns was as large as the largest medieval or Greek towns. But as with those towns, the Amazonian ones were surrounded by large walls – in their case, composed of earthworks still extant today. Among other repeated features, each Amazonian settlement had an identical formal road, always oriented northeast to southwest in keeping with the mid-year summer solstice, connected to a central plaza.
The careful placement of the like-oriented settlements is indicative of the regional planning and political organization that are hallmarks of urban society, Heckenberger said.
"These are not cities, but this is urbanism, built around towns," he said.
The findings are important because they contradict long-held stereotypes about early Western versus early New World settlements that rest on the idea that "if you find it in Europe, it's a city. If you find it somewhere else, it has to be something else," Heckenberger said.
"They have quite remarkable planning and self-organization, more so than many classical examples of what people would call urbanism," he said.