Rule Five American Rome Friday

I’ve done a fair amount of reading about ancient Rome, from the founding through the fall of the Western Empire, and have always found it a fascinating study; there are a lot of parallels with our time here in the United States.  That study led me to write my Nova Roma series, and with those in mind, I was interested to learn of the discovery of an unknown ancient civilization in the Amazon basis that may have been on a par with Rome.

Using airborne laser-scanning technology (Lidar), Rostain and his colleagues discovered a long-lost network of cities extending across 300sq km in the Ecuadorean Amazon, complete with plazas, ceremonial sites, drainage canals and roads that were built 2,500 years ago and had remained hidden for thousands of years. They also identified more than 6,000 rectangular earthen platforms believed to be homes and communal buildings in 15 urban centres surrounded by terraced agricultural fields.

“It was really a lost valley of cities,” said Rostain, the director of investigation at the National Centre for Scientific Research in France. “It’s incredible.” 

According to Rostain, the most striking aspect of this urban cluster, which is located in eastern Ecuador’s Upano Valley, is its astonishing road network. The cities’ streets were engineered to be perfectly straight, connecting at right angles with one another and linking the different cities like a prehistoric highway. The largest were 10m wide, with one extending 25km. “Given the hilly terrain, this road network was even more advanced than modern ones,” Rostain said.

This forgotten network of cities is not only believed to be more than 1,000 years older than any other known complex Amazonian site, but its staggering size and level of sophistication suggests a highly structured society that appears to be even larger than the well-known Maya cities in Mexico and Central America. 

The Mayans, of course, are well-documented, and in fact, figure heavily into the storylines of the Nova Roma books.

This is an interesting find, and it raises some questions.  Who were these people?  What remains of them?  Did they conduct trade in the region?  Did they conduct human sacrifice on the horrific scale of the Aztecs, or were they more reasonable (by comparison) like the Maya?  They evidently built roads, which would make it seem as though there was trade going on between groups – did they also trade with their neighbors?

Not to mention, shall I fold them into the next Nova Roma novel that I’m working on right now?

It turns out the roads may not have been for trade, though:

One of the most intriguing questions Rostain and his colleagues have been trying to understand is what led this society to engineer perfectly straight roads through the region’s mountainous topography. “Why would you build these straight roads five metres deep when you can easily walk through the hills?” Rostain asked. “I think they built them to imprint their identity, their relationship with the Earth in the earth. They are symbolic roads, like other roads in the Andes [notably the Inca’s famed Qhapaq Ñan, which is still considered by many Inca descendants as a living road today].”

History is amazing.  We keep finding new things, and I confess, I hadn’t been aware of the Inca building roads that were symbolic rather than practical; I’m obviously more familiar with the Roman model.

Another civilization that was, at least, on par with the Maya, in the Amazon basin of what is now Ecuador, would lend a whole new chapter to pre-Columbian America, and since so little is known about these people, we can only imagine what they may have been like. They may have villains, they may have been angels, but at this point, given the nature of where they lived, it’s doubtful we’ll know for sure.

That’s the best reason to fold these people into the Nova Roma saga.  I’ve often described the breathtaking abandon with which science-fiction and alternative history writers just make stuff up, and this new find gives me something new to work with!