Laser Technology Has Brought To Light The Awesome Might Of The Maya Civilization
Thanks to a relatively new laser technology known as Light Detection and Ranging, or LiDAR, archeologists have made a tremendous discovery in Guatemala. According to Tom Clynes, more than 60,000, previously-unknown Maya structures were identified in the dense jungles of the Petén region.
Among these buildings were houses, causeways, all sorts of fortifications, among many other structures. But what this discovery managed to achieve was to completely turn our previous knowledge and understanding about the Maya civilization on its head, making it, as Brown University archaeologist Stephen Houston puts it, “one of the greatest advances in over 150 years of Maya archaeology.”
This laser technology is a tool that generates very detailed topographical maps. Millions of laser pulses are beamed down from an airplane flying above, generating a precise replica of the surface of the ground, even if that ground is covered by a thick layer of the jungle canopy.
Over 800 square miles of jungles were scanned with this laser technology, bringing to light many previously-unknown Maya settlements. According to the previous knowledge we had about the Maya, it was believed that their cities were fairly isolated from one another and acted more like independent, or semi-independent city-states. But after this discovery was made, it was revealed that the Maya civilization was far more interconnected and advanced than previously believed – somewhat similar to the ancient cultures of the Greeks or Chinese.
In the discoveries made here, large, elevated causeways were revealed, which facilitated swift transit between the cities, facilitating a great amount of trade between the many different regions that the Maya civilization inhabited. These scans also indicate that the overall population of the Maya during the classical period (250-900 A.D) was also much larger than previously believed. After this discovery, their numbers are believed to have been closer to 10, or even 15 million people – as compared to only 5 million, like previously thought.
They also showed archeologists that the Maya also lived in low-lying, swampy areas of the jungle – which were initially thought to be uninhabitable. Much of the area where this laser technology was used, was unexplored by scientists. But others had seen archeological diggings. Nevertheless, LiDAR was able to bring to light structures that were previously overlooked by these scientists.
Interestingly enough, this survey was only a first phase of a grander initiative. Over the course of the next three years, more than 5,000 square miles of Guatemala’s lowlands will be subjected to these surveys, hopefully bringing to light even more of the ancient Maya.