Centuries ago, deep in South America, lost civilizations flourished within the Amazon rainforest. European explorers and neighboring communities noted a careful construction to settlements. However, even the closest neighbors wouldn't understand the villages' brilliant designs — not without 21st century technology. When such technology finally came into play, the findings shocked experts. How did people so long ago accomplish such an impossible feat?
Close to the Brazilian section of the Amazon, settlements of ancient indigenous tribes have become lost in the changing landscape. But a 2020 study showed how modern technology has been put to work to uncover what the human eye can't see.
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An archaeological team, confident that they could find what so many others had missed, took to the skies over the rainforest with LIDAR. Short for "Light Detection and Ranging," the equipment had lasers that scanned the land. Nothing of the kind had been attempted before.
Could LIDAR pick up on traces of extinct communities in the Amazon? Much of what occurred upon the land before colonization took over has been unknown. From the pieces of history that survived, historians agreed on a few common facts. So much more information was needed.
Friar Gaspar de Carvajal, a Dominican missionary, chronicled what he found upon exploring the New World. He wrote about a developed network of roads he had seen. Only more recently have his writings been deemed reliable, especially based on some of his claims.