Team finds more traces of lost Amazon civilization

Kyodo News

A well-known Japanese archaeologist said Tuesday a team he is leading has found further evidence of a little-known ancient civilization in the Bolivian Amazon.

Katsuyoshi Sanematsu, a professor of anthropology at Rikkyo University in Tokyo, completed an excavation in August of a massive man-made mound, or “loma,” in Bolivia’s northeastern Beni state.

Such mounds mark settlements of the Mojos civilization, which is thought to have flourished in the Amazon region for thousands of years before the arrival of the Spanish.

The excavation is the second stage of a three-year study by Japanese and Bolivian researchers called Project Mojos that began in 2005.

Sanematsu, author of numerous books on ancient Central and South American cultures, said the main objective of this year’s work was to gather more data on the loma, one of some 20,000 in the flood plain of the Bolivian Amazon called the Llanos de Mojos.

The four-week excavation confirmed that the mound, called Loma Chocolatalito, is full of pottery and animal bones.

“There were over 10,000 fragments of pottery unearthed from the top 100-cm layer of just one of the units,” he said, referring to a sectional cut from the loma.

“Also we discovered numerous animal bones, some of which had been worked and painted. All this suggests that this place was densely populated in ancient times.”

Among the most interesting objects are a fish hook made of animal bone and a pottery fragment with a carved design that Sanematsu believes may be a map.

The project team, which includes seven other Japanese researchers and experts, brought 39 samples back to Japan for analysis.

Sanematsu said although it isn’t possible to draw conclusions based on a few years of research, the results indicate an important civilization once existed in the Llanos de Mojos, but what caused it to disappear remains a mystery.