An archaeological exploration team has used LiDAR technology to uncover tens of thousands of Mayan-era structures deep in the jungles of Guatemala.
The survey was carried out on behalf of The Foundation for Maya Cultural and Natural Heritage (PACUNAM), a Guatemalan nonprofit organization dedicated to fostering scientific research, conservation and sustainable development of cultural and natural resources in the Maya Biosphere Reserve.
Scientists from Tulane University, New Orleans, said that the scans of the newly-revealed structures represent dozens of ancient cities, and contain pyramids, large palaces, isolated houses and ceremonial centres.
“It seems clear now that the ancient Maya transformed their landscape on a grand scale in order to render it more agriculturally productive,” said Marcello A. Canuto, director of the Middle American Research Institute at Tulane.
“As a result, it seems likely that this region was much more densely populated than what we have traditionally thought.”
Francisco Estrada-Belli, who specialises in remote sensing and GIS on early Maya civilization, said the discoveries were made in a matter of minutes — compared to what would have take years of fieldwork without the LiDAR technology.
“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,” he said.
LiDAR has been instrumental in significant archaeological discoveries of recent years, assisting researchers to discover vast subterranean cities surrounding Cambodia’s Angkor Wat temple complex, and two ancient cities in Honduras that were obscured by impenetrable rainforest.