A portion of the Bolivian Amazon, called Llanos de Moxos, is home to the port of Loma Suárez. The port is named after a famous rubber baron, Nicolás Suárez, who constructed a ranch and mansion next to a hill that overlooked the Ibare River. In the late 19th to early 20th Century, Suárez and his brothers were one of the wealthiest people in Bolivia. They ruled a large area of the Amazon Basin and were known for their ruthlessness and violent tempers.
The hill named after them is now home to a mausoleum for one of the brothers named Rómulo. But what’s most noteworthy about the hill is that, as natural as it looks, it was actually man-made by a lesser-known ancient society.
Before 1492 when the Europeans arrived in the Americas, many believed the Amazon was a large, untouched stretch of wilderness that was home to small communities of people; however, many researchers have refuted this statement. They say the region, which spans 120,0000 square miles and is nearly the size of England, has actually been inhabited for the last 10,000 years. The rainforest was initially home to hunter-gatherer groups, but around 1000 BCE, more advanced communities started to pop up.
The Amazon’s environment could be incredibly challenging at times, so its inhabitants built many hills, raised fields, canals, and reservoirs to help avoid flooding. Kenneth Lee, a renowned archaeologist from the United States, visited the area in the 1950s and became incredibly invested in studying the earthworks of the native people. It is estimated that there could have been as many as 20,000 of them living in the area and that the largest villages housed more than 2,000 people.
In more recent years, archaeologists have started studying the people who created these earthworks more closely. Their discoveries have significantly reshaped our understanding of the land they inhabited. More recent research indicates that the Llanos de Moxos was inhabited by more sophisticated societies with far more people that we had previously believed. These people were able to adapt and thrive in an environment that has always proved to be a challenge.
Many of the structures built by the natives were left abandoned by the 15th Century, but some are still in use by indigenous people. A few have even been protected by special conservation projects.
Most of the archaeological discoveries in Llanos de Moxos have happened in recent years, but the area was first excavated around 1910. Half a century later, researchers would start to realize the extent of the earthworks. Garcilaso de la Vega, a Spanish-Inca historian, wrote a book in 1609 titled “Royal Commentaries of the Incas.” The book is his account of an expedition into Musu, an Amazonian province, in the 15th-Century. Musu would later become what was thought to be the Llanos de Moxos, and in his book, Garcilaso recounts the many belligerent natives who would not subject to Inca rule.
In the last few decades, research surrounding the Llanos de Moxos have changed. They indicate these people shaped the landscape and created an artificial environment that is regarded as one of the most ecologically rich in the world.
In May of 2022, some scientists and archaeologists from the UK and Germany published their findings from a survey that utilized laser scanners to study the south-eastern portion of Llanos de Moxos. They compared their findings to the Andean societies that lived within the same time period.
Many researchers find the complex nature of these sites fascinating. The Casarabe culture was sophisticated and impressive. They faced many geographical challenges and extreme weather conditions on a regular basis, but they continued to press forward and flourished in the Amazon for many years.