Laser Scans Revealed More Than 60,000 Mayan Structures That Were Part Of A Vast Network Of Cities, Farms And Highways

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mayan structuresImage courtesy of Luke Auld-Thomas and Marcello A. Canuto

Hidden behind the lush Petén rainforest of Guatemala, is an ancient city which is not touched by human beings for about more than 1,000 years, but in its heyday, it was home to millions of Mesoamericans that built a sophisticated, as well as sprawling empire. Now, for the first time, one team of international archaeologists discovered and mapped tens of thousands of ancient structures which are using airborne light detection, as well as ranging technology LiDAR over 2,100 square kilometers of the lowland of the nation.

LiDAR has been applied for the first time in this area in 2009, and it focused on the immediate surroundings of the individual sites. Archaeologists have first discovered the vast metropolis in February, as it was reported by National Geographic, led by a Guatemalan science nonprofit group known as the PACUNAM Foundation. As they published their work in Science over six months later, the team also confirmed the presence of about 61,000 ancient structures, which include houses, large palaces, ceremonial centers, as well as pyramids.

LiDAR pierces through the thick forest canopy in order to reveal changes in elevation, permitting the researchers to identify the topographical features as manmade walls, roads, as well as buildings without the need of setting foot on the ground. With this information, they also can create three-dimensional maps in a matter of minutes, avoiding years of arduous fieldwork.

The team member Francisco Estrada-Belli said in a statement:

Seen as a whole, terraces, as well as irrigation channels, reservoirs, fortifications, and causeways, reveal an astonishing amount of land modification which is done by the Maya over their entire landscape on a scale previously unimaginable.

There are more than 61,000 ancient structures which were accounted for in the surveyed region, which indicate that up to 7 to 11 million people have been present at the height of the Late Classic period, 650-800. For scale, New York City was about 8.5 million people. Such populations were unevenly distributed with some different levels of urbanization and were also spread out over more than 1,200 square kilometers. This land has been modified in some way for the intensive agricultural production which was needed in order to support the massive population for hundreds of people.

A Maya archaeologist, named Marcello A. Canuto said:

It looks clear now that the ancient Maya have transformed their landscape on a grand scale so they would render it more agriculturally productive. Because of that, it looks probable that this region was actually much more densely populated than what we have though traditionally. 

Also, the international team mapped extensive causeways, as well as networks connection the different urban centers, which they say highlights just how interconnected the different city centers were, as well as how much their inhabitants had the will to invest in defensive systems in the event of warfare.

As with any other discovery, the authors concluded that their findings actually generate new questions, refine targets for fieldwork, regional electric study all over continuous landscapes, as well as advance Maya archaeology into a bold era of research or of exploration.

Featured Image Credit: Luke Auld-Thomas and Marcello A. Canuto

Via: EOS

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