South American Surprise: Ancient farmers settled in Uruguay's wetlands

11:45am, December 1, 2004

One of the earliest complex societies in South America flourished in an unexpected corner of the continent. Around 4,200 years ago, an extensive, carefully designed farming settlement was built in the wetlands of what's now southeastern Uruguay, a team of researchers finds.

The ancient agricultural outpost, Los Ajos, was steadily occupied until about 500 years ago, say archaeologist José Iriarte of the Smithsonian Tropical Research Institute in Balboa, Panama, and his colleagues.

Discoveries at Los Ajos challenge the long-standing scientific assumption that early South American civilizations arose solely along the coast of Peru and in nearby highland valleys. Iriarte and his coworkers describe their findings in the Dec. 2 Nature.

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