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Laser-tech uncover thousands of new Mayan sites
February 11, 2018, 5:04 pm

Archeologists have discovered more than 60,000 previously unknown ancient Mayan civilization structures in northern Guatemala after extensive aerial LiDAR (Light Detection and Ranging) surveys. The new findings reveal that the region’s pre-Columbian civilization was far more complex and interconnected than most Maya specialists had supposed. Scientists mapped more than 2,100 square kilometers of Guatemala’s Maya Biosphere Reserve, and uncovered an extensive network of previously-unknown structures, quarries, farmland, and roads.

Based on the new data, researchers now believe that more than constructing a series of isolated city-states, the Mayans had an advanced civilization that was on par with those that existed in Greece or China. Archeological researchers say the region was also far more densely populated than previously thought, with over 10 to 15 million people living in the area — even in places that were previously thought to be uninhabitable. Archeologists will now study the data to refine their understandings of the region’s inhabitants. Archeologists have in recent years begun to increasingly rely on LiDAR mapping technology to penetrate the dense rainforests of South America in order to reveal humanmade structures that have long been hidden.

Aircraftmounted LiDAR sensors shoot lasers into the ground, which bounce back once they hit an object. While the lasers hit tree leaves and vegetation, they also hit the ground.

Once scientists peel back the forest canopy and underbrush, they are left with detailed images of the ground. The survey comes from The Foundation for Maya Cultural and Natural Heritage (PACUNAM), a Guatemalan nonprofit organization dedicated to historical preservation, archeological research, environmental conservation, and sustainable economic development. This project is just the first phase of a three-year project that is expected to survey nearly 13,000 square kilometers of the region.

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