Lasers Reveal More than 60,000 Lost Maya Structures hidden in the Jungle

Using the data, authors estimate upwards of 11 million people lived throughout the Maya Lowlands during the Late Classic Period (650 - 800 CE).

The technology of aerial optical remote sensing has revealed the enormous dimensions of an ancient Maya complex, whose ruins are currently hidden under the jungle of Petén (Guatemala).

Thousands of previously unknown ancient structures were revealed in Central America thanks to LiDAR technology.

The massive Mayan complex, hidden deep within the Jungle of Guatemala is home to previously known roads, canals, Temples, Pyramids, and even whole settlements.

A view of Tikal contrasted with the city as seen through LiDAR scans. (Credit: Luke Auld-Thomas and Marcello A. Canuto/PACUNAM)
A view of Tikal contrasted with the city as seen through LiDAR scans. Image Credit: Luke Auld-Thomas and Marcello A. Canuto/PACUNAM

And the best part is that scientists now have sufficient evidnece to suggest this ancient civilization was much bigger than previously thought.

Anew estimate of the ancient Maya population based on new surveys suggests that this ancient civilization was home to as many as 11 million people, thousands of years ago.

New LiDAR scans have shown that ancient Maya settlements were intricately connected by massive road systems which made migration, commerce, as well as warfare easier for the ancient civilization.

Scientists say they have uncovered 362 square kilometers of terraces or modified farmland and another 952 square kilometers of viable agricultural land, which show a highly modified landscape that allowed the ancient Maya to sustain a massively growing population.

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And all of this was possible thanks to the PACUNAM foundation.

The PACUNAM Foundation (Foundation for Maya Cultural and Natural Heritage) allowed a consortium of 18 academics from the United States, Europe, and Guatemalan institutions to analyze with the help of LiDAR technology an area covering more than 2,100 square kilometers of the Maya Biosphere Reserve.

“Seen as a whole, terraces and irrigation channels, reservoirs, fortifications, and causeways reveal an astonishing amount of land modification done by the Maya over their entire landscape on a scale previously unimaginable,” said Francisco Estrada-Belli, a research assistant professor at Tulane and director of the Holmul Archaeological Project.

“Since LiDAR technology can see through a dense canopy of forest and map features on the surface of the earth, it can be used to produce terrain maps that allow us to identify man-made features on the ground, such as walls, roads or buildings. ” said co-author Marcello Canuto.

The LiDAR PACUNAM INITIATIVE (PLI), is the largest single lidar survey in the history of Mesoamerican archeology.

The collaborative scientific effort has provided accurate quantitative data of unprecedented scope to refine long-standing debates about the nature of ancient Maya lowland urbanism.

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Lidar survey 'compels' revaluation of aspects of ancient Maya society