The Amazon rainforest is a repository of ecological services for both the local tribes and the rest of the world. It is the single largest remaining tropical rainforest in the world and houses almost 10 per cent of the biodiversity that includes endemic and endangered flora and fauna.
There is a hill in the Amazon rainforest which stretches over nearly two acres of land and is called as the Montegrande. While looking at it, it seems like a conventional hill, however, there is a steep on the hill which is a large mound of earth.
For decades, this portion of the Amazon rainforest was ignored and forgotten. But with time, as Peru’s cities and towns started stretching out to the area, farmers set up their homes on this hill. As they worked on the land, they uncovered some sherds of old pots which were the relics of the past dating back to more than 1000 years.
The farmers’ homes soon turned into an archaeological site. In the year 2010, archaeologist Quirino Olivera and his team started excavating the Montegrande hill and soon found out that it was not a hill but a 3000-year-old huge pyramid built by a lost old civilization of the Amazon rainforest.
Civilizations of the Amazon
The discovery of the pyramid at Montegrande changed the overall perception of the Amazon. For the first time, there was proof that ancient civilization indeed existed in the Amazon rainforest. Many ancient civilizations thrived in South America, but, Amazon is a place where people did not want to venture. Archaeologists believe that the Amazon was populated by nomadic people who would wander from one location to another to set up their short-term farming.
When the Spanish conquerors reached South America, they wrote stories about large towns of the Amazon with beautiful farms and big fleets of boats. However, the Spanish had no evidence to confirm their theories. The studies conducted by the archaeologists further revealed that none of the civilization stayed long enough in the Amazon to build a home.
It is believed that around 5 million people resided in the Amazon in the past. The civilization constructed by these people are long forgotten to time. The only way to know more about these people was by examining their bones.
A Forgotten Civilization
Archeologists reveal that the people who built the Montegrande were incredibly talented and full of knowledge. They did not build just one pyramid in 1000 AD, but they reworked on it and rebuilt it at least eight times. Before the end of their civilization, they lived in that particular area for more than thousand years.
These people were building six-foot high walls to protect themselves and were also setting up offices from where the rulers governed. They built houses across the riverbank and had an elaborate religion. The people were a part of a massive trade network that extended across modern Peru.
The remains of these people hint at their age of the history. Massive pyramids that were found on scraping their ruins give a lovely insight of their religion.
The Spiral Temple
On top of the mound were spiral rocks that coiled in the shape of a huge snake or a shell of a snail. One could walk along the spiral just like making a way through a labyrinth. Each step took the person further down to the center of the ground which is around forty feet below the first step.
The center of the spiral denoted burning of fire like sacred fires that are done for a religious purpose. Olivier believes that another reason for the fire could be involvement of drugs. Archaeologists found some snuff spoons and mortar grinders that still had the residue of hallucinogenic vilca seeds. Vilca seeds were not grown in the civilization; they were bought from other places indicating elaborate trade network of the civilization.
The seeds are believed to be the main reason why the people were fascinated with the spirals. People who took the seeds hallucinated lights flashing in the shape of the spiral. The priests may have consumed these seeds to seek divine vision to change their entire culture.
Excavations reveal that the spirals were an obsession for the people of this civilization. Within the remains of the civilization, many snail shells were found scattered everywhere. When people died, they were covered in these shells. In fact, the spiral shape was present in every aspect of the society. The people believed to meet God when they consumed the crushed the seeds and freed their minds.
The Lord of Snails
Almost a mile away from the Montegrande, the researchers found another pyramid, but this one spoke a darker tale about the civilization.
Inside the second pyramid, there were remains of 22 children. Most of the bones displayed signs of malnutrition and sickness. The bones seemed to be withering away when they died. All these indicate that the children were brought in sick and were left to die. It was a place where the mother would leave her beloved dying child with the shamans or the witch doctors. However, the shamans could not cure the children as they did not have any magic potion. Instead, these sick children were made into human sacrifices.
The bones of the children had signs of brutalization. For instance, the remains of a six-year-old revealed that he was buried here along with his pet guinea pig. Similarly, a young mother was buried with her newborn baby in a decapitated state. Besides all these bones, there were remains of the priest who made human sacrifices. The archaeologists called him, “The Lord of the Snails.”
According to the archaeologists, the priest died almost 2800 years ago and had the most glamorous burial site. He was buried covered in 180 snail shells from head to toe. His face was facing the east, towards the rising sun.
The people who lived here no longer exist. We do not know their names, their thoughts on life, love, and death. We are unaware of the reason why they lived in the Amazon and why they fell. However, this discovery challenges the theory that the rainforest’s ecosystem has remained untouched by humans. Who knows what else is still hidden by trees of the largest forest on planet.
featured image©Gurcan Sarisoy