The Sacred geography of the Amazon basin
Type of Spiritual Experience
A description of the experience
The Lost City of Z – David Grann
The settlement was in the very region where Fawcett believed it would be. But it was understandable why he might not have been able to see it, Michael Heckenberger went on.
"There isn't a lot of stone in the jungle, and most of the settlement was built with organic materials-wood and palms and earth mounds-which decompose," he said. "But once you begin to map out the area and excavate it you are blown away by what you see."
He began walking once more through the forest, pointing out what were, clearly, the remains of a massive run-made landscape. There was not just one moat but three, arranged in concentric circles. There was a giant circular plaza where the vegetation had a different character from that of the rest of the forest, because it had once been swept clean. And there had been a sprawling neighborhood of dwellings, as evidenced by even denser black soil, which had been enriched by decomposed garbage and human waste.
As we walked around, I noticed an embankment that extended in the forest in a straight line. Heckenberger said that it was a road curb.
"They had roads, too?" I asked.
"Roads. Causeways. Canals." Heckenberger said that some roads had been nearly a hundred and fifty feet wide. "'We even found a place where the road ends at one side of a river in a kind of ascending ramp and then continues on the other side with a descending ramp. Which can only mean one thing: there had to have been some kind of wooden bridge connecting them, over an area that was a half mile long."
They were the very same kinds of dreamlike causeways and settlements that the Spanish conquistadores had spoken of when they visited the Amazon, the ones in which Fawcett had so fervently believed and which twentieth-century scientists had dismissed as myths. I asked Heckenberger where the roads led, and he said that they extended to other, equally complex sites.
"I just took you to the closest one," he said.
Altogether, he had uncovered twenty pre-Columbian settlements in the Xingu, which had been occupied roughly between A.D. 800 and A.D 1600. The settlements were about two to three miles apart and were connected by roads. More astounding, the plazas were laid out along cardinal points, from east to west, and the roads were positioned at the same geometric angles. (Fawcett said that Indians had told him legends that described "many streets set at right angles to one another.")
Borrowing my notebook, Heckenberger began to sketch a huge circle, then another and another. These were the plazas and the villages he said. He then drew rings around them, which he said were the moats. Finally, he added several parallel lines that jutted out from each of the settlements in precise angles-the roads, bridges, and causeways. Each form seemed to fit into an elaborate whole, like an abstract painting whose elements cohere only at a distance.
"Once my team and I started to map everything out, we discovered that nothing was done by accident," Heckenberger said. "All these settlements were laid out with a complicated plan, with a sense of engineering and mathematics that rivaled anything that was happening in much of Europe at the time."
Heckenberger said that before Western diseases devastated the population, each cluster of settlements contained anywhere from two thousand to five thousand people, which means that the larger community was the size of many medieval European cities.
"These people had a cultural aesthetic of monumentality," he said. "They liked to have beautiful roads and plazas and bridges. Their monuments were not pyramids, which is why they were so hard to find; they were horizontal features. But they're no less extraordinary."
The source of the experienceSouth American shamanism
Concepts, symbols and science items
SymbolsMap of the Egg
Science ItemsSacred geography
Sacred geography - ancient trees
Sacred geography - artificial hills
Sacred geography - beacons
Sacred geography - bridges
Sacred geography - citadel
Sacred geography - cities
Sacred geography - cliffs
Sacred geography - crack or crevice
Sacred geography - cross
Sacred geography - crossroads
Sacred geography - cursus
Sacred geography - enclosures and camps
Sacred geography - gardens
Sacred geography - henges
Sacred geography - hollow roads
Sacred geography - islands
Sacred geography - isthmus
Sacred geography - labyrinths
Sacred geography - ley lines
Sacred geography - mark stones
Sacred geography - mountain
Sacred geography - natural hills
Sacred geography - palace
Sacred geography - physical caves
Sacred geography - rivers and streams
Sacred geography - sacred grove
Sacred geography - underground secret passages
Sacred geography - volcanoes
Sacred geography - water sites
Sacred geography - ziggurat