Listen to this article Discovery of a Massive Maya Civilization Site in Guatemala’s Rainforest
A team of geologists in northern Guatemala unearthed a colossal Maya site spanning over 650 square miles (1,700 square kilometers) and belonging to the Middle and Late Preclassic era, dating back to approximately between 1000 B.C. and 250 B.C. Additionally, the site is home to numerous architectural wonders, including pyramids, plazas, and ballcourts. Furthermore, the team discovered evidence of sophisticated irrigation systems that allowed the Maya to cultivate crops on a large scale in this arid region. Notably, the site also contains a wealth of artifacts, such as pottery, stone tools, and jade jewelry, providing valuable insights into the everyday lives of the Maya people during this period. Overall, this discovery is a significant milestone in our understanding of Maya civilization and its development over time.The researchers conducted an aerial survey using lidar technology to discover the concealed gems beneath the dense rainforest cover.
Using the Lidar Technology
Lidar, short for Light Detection and Ranging, is a remote sensing technology that uses laser beams to measure the distance between the sensor and the target. In the case of the Maya civilization site in Guatemala, the lasers beamed out by the aircraft reflected off the surface and created high-resolution images of the landscape. The lidar technology was particularly beneficial in the dense rainforests of the Mirador-Calakmul Karst Basin, where the lasers could penetrate the thick tree canopy, providing a detailed view of the terrain.
Identifying the Maya Site’s Features
The team used data from the scans to pinpoint over 1,000 settlements scattered throughout the region.
In addition to identifying over 1,000 settlements, the team also uncovered several large platforms and pyramids, along with canals and reservoirs designed for water collection. Moreover, the Maya connected these settlements via 100 miles (160 kilometers) of causeways that they probably traversed on foot.The findings were published in the journal Ancient Mesoamerica in December 2022.
A Political and Economic Landscape
For the first time, the lidar data uncovered an area that the Maya had integrated politically and economically, which had not been observed in other locations in the Western Hemisphere. According to study co-author Carlos Morales-Aguilar, a postdoctoral fellow in the Department of Geography and the Environment at the University of Texas at Austin, “We can now see the entire landscape of the Maya region” in this section of Guatemala. The team believes that the Mirador-Calakmul Karst Basin was a center of political and economic power in ancient Maya civilization, owing to the presence of various settlements and a network of interconnected causeways.
The Attraction of the Mirador-Calakmul Karst Basin
The Mirador-Calakmul Karst Basin was the perfect environment for the Maya, known as the “Goldilocks Zone.” The region had the right combination of uplands for settlement and lowlands for agriculture. The uplands provided a source for limestone, which was the primary building material used by the Maya. They also offered dry land for living. On the other hand, the lowlands were mostly seasonal swamps, or bajos, which provided space for wetland agriculture, along with organic-rich soil for use in terraced agriculture.
Revolutionary Technology for Archaeology
Researchers have previously used lidar to scan Maya sites in Guatemala. In 2015, the Mirador Basin Project conducted two large-scale surveys of the southern portion of the basin, focusing on the ancient city of El Mirador. That project led to the mapping of 658 square miles (1,703 square km) of this section of the country. Lidar technology has been revolutionary for archaeology in this area, allowing researchers to explore sections of Guatemala that have remained a mystery for centuries.