A study published in Antiquity, a British archaeological journal, details how satellite imagery was used to discern the footprint of the buildings and roads of a settlement, located in what is now Brazil and believed to span a region of more than 150 miles across.
"The combination of land cleared of its rain forest for grazing and satellite survey have revealed a sophisticated pre-Columbian monument-building society in the upper Amazon basin on the east side of the Andes. This hitherto unknown people constructed earthworks of precise geometric plan connected by straight orthogonal roads," the researchers wrote in the journal.
David Grann, author of the book "The Lost City of Z," points out that the existence of the ruins overturns the previously held belief that this portion of the Amazon basin had always been a pristine wilderness, even though legends of a lost Amazonian city still lingered by the time the Spanish arrived on the continent.
"Although the early conquistadores had heard from the Indians about a fabulously rich Amazonian civilization, which they named El Dorado, the searches for it invariably ended in disaster," Grann wrote on The New Yorker's Web site. "Thousands were wiped out by disease and starvation. And after a toll of death and suffering worthy of Joseph Conrad, most scholars concluded that El Dorado was no more than an illusion."
According to Martti Parssinen, Denise Schaan and Alceu Ranzi, the authors of the study, the community likely had a population of more than 60,000 people. The researchers said they have only uncovered roughly 10 percent of the existing structures, which may date as far back as A.D. 800.
As Grann describes in his book, British explorer Percy Harrison Fawcett claimed he had found evidence of an ancient civilization, which he called the City of Z, in the same area. He disappeared in the jungle on a 1925 expedition undertaken with his son and a companion.
While isolated discoveries of pottery and road beds had been made over the past few decades, the clear cutting of the Amazon forest laid bare the scope of the archaeological site.