Archaeologists uncover swallowed structures of ancient Maya era using 3-D laser map

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Finally the hidden ancient Mayan structures have been uncovered using laser mapping technology called lidar by archaeologists in the tropical lowlands of what is today Guatemala, Mexico, Belize and western Honduras. The pyramids, farms, canals, fortresses, highways, agricultural terraces, temples and rich history inscribed and painted on stone, wood and ceramics have all been revealed in the 3-D map.

Published Thursday in the Science magazine the discoveries provide a snapshot of ancient culture that flourished for over 2,500 years from about 1000 B.C. to 1500 A.D.

Lidar is similar to radar or sonar. The main difference is that it uses bursts of laser light for mapping an area. A senior researcher at the National Center for Airborne Laser Mapping at the University of Houston, Juan Fernandez-Diaz, had earlier flown over an area of about 800 square miles in northern Guatemala forest in a plane sporting the technology. The experience was like mowing the lawn, forth and back, along the jungle canopy, above about 2,000 feet.

Archaeologists say over 61,000 ancient Mayan structures have been swallowed in the tropical lowlands. Until the lidar mapping the area was thought as unusable swamp, but it is revealed to be the most productive farmland. The farms during the Maya era would have been something similar to what is seen in the present-day Southeast Asia.

Earlier this year in February the team disclosed they have found ruins of ancient Maya structures and archaeologist from Tulane University said it is the largest survey of the kind in Mesoamerica.

The work was funded by PACUNAM, which is a dedicated foundation in preserving Maya cultural heritage.

The new study reveals about 7 to 11 million people may have lived in the central Maya Lowlands then, commonly called as the Late Classic Period, between 650 A.D. to 800 A.D.

The team revisited several parts of the jungle after constructing lidar map to verify the structures. To their surprise they couldn’t believe to have missed several structures including a road on which the archaeologists had earlier walked.

Thomas Garrison, an archaeologist at Ithaca College and an author of the paper, said the map was first imagery to him, but it was mild-blowing to see it into the normal world of fieldwork.

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