Laser Scans Reveal 60,000 Hidden Maya Structures in Guatemala

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Guatemala Researchers Found 60,000 Hidden Maya Structures

(Guatemala Researchers Found 60,000 Hidden Maya Structures)

With the help of a pioneering laser-mapping technology, researchers have made a major archaeological discovery in Guatemala.

According to Tom Clynes, who broke the story in a National Geographic exclusive published last week, more than 60,000 Maya structures—among them houses, fortifications, and causeways—have been identified amid the jungles of the Petén region, shaking up what experts thought they knew about the complexity and scope of Maya civilization.

The breakthrough discovery was made using Light Detection and Ranging, or LiDAR, which works by beaming millions of laser pulses from a plane to the ground below.

As the wavelengths bounce back, they are measured to create detailed topographical maps. In Guatemala, LiDAR allowed a team of researchers, supported by the PACUNAM Foundation, to map more than 800 square miles of land obscured by dense foliage.

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Researchers have long thought that Maya cities were largely isolated and self-sustaining. But the LiDAR scans indicate that the Maya civilization was in fact interconnected and sophisticated, not unlike the ancient civilizations of Greece and China. For example, the team discovered a network of wide, elevated causeways that linked Maya cities and may have been used to facilitate trade between different regions.

 These findings will be explored in more detail in Lost Treasures of the Maya Snake King, a documentary premiering February 6 on the National Geographic Channel. And the recent survey is only the first phase of PACUNAM’s LiDAR Initiative, which seeks to map more than 5,000 square miles of Guatemala’s lowlands over the course of three years.

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