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Now, however, the doomed dreamers have been proved right: there was a great civilisation. New satellite imagery and fly-overs have revealed more than 200 huge geometric earthworks carved in the upper Amazon basin near Brazil's border with Bolivia.
Spanning 155 miles, the circles, squares and other geometric shapes form a network of avenues, ditches and enclosures built long before Christopher Columbus set foot in the new world. Some date to as early as 200 AD, others to 1283.
Scientists who have mapped the earthworks believe there may be another 2,000 structures beneath the jungle canopy, vestiges of vanished societies.
The structures, many of which have been revealed by the clearance of forest for agriculture, point to a "sophisticated pre-Columbian monument-building society", says the journal Antiquity, which has published the research.
The article adds: "This hitherto unknown people constructed earthworks of precise geometric plan connected by straight orthogonal roads. The geoglyph culture stretches over a region more than 250km across, and exploits both the floodplains and the uplands … we have so far seen no more than a tenth of it."
The structures were created by a network of trenches about 36ft (nearly 11 metres) wide and several feet deep, lined by banks up to 3ft high. Some were ringed by low mounds containing ceramics, charcoal and stone tools. It is thought they were used for fortifications, homes and ceremonies, and could have maintained a population of 60,000 – more people than in many medieval European cities.
I wonder what promted these people to leave this area? Maybe Climate Change, or some war with another culture?