Advanced Mapping Technology Reveals Staggering Secrets About Ancient Mayan Civilization.

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There is no ancient civilization more fascinating in our minds than that of the Maya. One of the most prosperous peoples of the ancient past, the Maya settled into an area that encompasses Guatemala, Mexico, and even Belize. During the height of the Mayan empire, the ancient civilization was twice the size of England at the time. Only now, however, are we finally unearthing even more satisfying truths.

Today, we are going to explore the Mayan Civilization as never seen before thanks to the work of LiDAR.

Mayan History Revered and Enigmatic

The ancient Mayans are largely considered to be some of the greatest architects in human history. Thousands of years after their civilization collapsed and withered away, their impressive and massively detailed stone structures persist to this day.
With such a sprawling empire, how has so much of their world flown under the radar?

Barely Scratching the Surface

Even though the Mayan civilization has existed under a scientific microscope for years, we are still uncovering stunning new facts. Thanks to the installation of new technology, which we will discuss shortly, we have come upon some startling truths.

As it turns out, the Mayan people may have been far more advanced and populous than we ever imagined.

Technological Advancement for Preservation

The conduit for today’s discoveries comes by way of LiDar, a new form of technology that is being embraced by archaeologists the world over. Developed in conjunction with PACUNAM, located in Guatemala, LiDAR is a laser-guided mapping technology that seeks to change how we analyze and excavate.

The PACUNAM project is aiming to map more than 5,000 sq/m of Guatemala before concluding their work.

180 Degree Shift in Preservation Techniques

Before the advent of LiDAR, the best technique for discovering secrets from the past had been to physically unearth them ourselves. Much like the beginning of Jurassic Park, technology can fundamentally change how we approach the secrets hidden away in our earth.

LiDAR stands for Light Imaging Detection and Ranging.

Changing the Paradigm With LiDAR

Researchers have been using LiDAR to collect data before mapping 3D representations of their targeted area. By implementing radar pulses, researchers are using LIDAR to create ancient topography sans the jungle, thus giving a unique and never-before-seen view into how the world might have looked for the Mayan people.

Researcher Thomas Garrison would say, “This is a game-changer.”

Inches Away But Years From Discovery

Thomas Garrison had been working in Guatemala back in 2010, long before he had the chance to implement LiDAR technology into his work. Garrison pointed that he had been only 150 feet away from a hidden Mayan fortress and he had never even realized it. Everything has changed thanks to LiDAR.

While answers came quickly, even more questions began to arise as LiDAR was implemented.

Finding a Hidden World

As Garrison and his team of researchers implemented LiDAR into their work, their team would make startling discovery after starling discovery. It didn’t take long for Garrison’s team to locate giant walls as well as moats, prompting a theory that these structures were used for defense. 

Before LiDAR, Garrison’s research team had never even considered the possibility of a defensive moat.

Mapping HOW Many Structures?!

Studying the ancient world with LiDAR has been a dream come true for scientists working in the Guatemalan forest. So far, LiDAR has revealed more than 60,000 Mayan structures in the immediate area, thus calling to question just how large their civilization was.

Researchers have now come to a stunning conclusion, Mayan cities existed in far greater numbers than we ever knew!

A Sprawling and Advanced Civilization

After inspecting the data recovered through LiDAR, Andrew Garrison would take his hypothesis a step further than before. Garrison would say, “The LiDAR images make it clear that this entire region was a settlement system.” Garrison would go on to underscore the fact that previous researchers had severely underestimated the population of the area.

Instead of the original estimate of 1 million Maya, the region was likely home to more than 20 million Maya.

Discoveries Change Past Beliefs

A huge reason for this change in scientific thought is due to the density of farmland in the area. As LiDAR uncovered more structures, researchers were able to highlight buildings dedicated to an advanced level of agriculture. From terracing to irrigation, it was likely that the Mayan people were effective at feeding large population centers.

Can you imagine living in these sprawling ancient cities? What was it like day-to-day?

Other Uses of LiDAR

As LiDAR has completely changed research into the Maya, researchers around the world are seeking to use the tool. LiDAR has largely become the future of archaeology, even though it is still relatively new to the world. LiDAR is expected to be used in order to explore the Amazon and the Congo Basin.

What discoveries lurk within other ancient forests in our world?

Diagnosing the Natural World

While LiDAR has been coveted for its archaeological use, the truth is that the tool is more dynamic even than that! According to Garrison, the vast majority of data they collect gets discarded because it is of no use for their studies. Instead, this data can be used to determine the health of trees, what caused a forest fire, or even the carbon footprint of an area.

LiDAR is Changing the Scientific World

According to Francisco Estrada-Belli, an archaeologist from Tulane University, LiDAR is compiling more information than will be possible to understand for hundreds of years. Estrada-Belli would go on to claim, “We’ll need 100 years to go through all and really understand what we’re seeing.”

A Compressed Overview of Mayan Life

LiDAR’s data is impressive, though it isn’t without any flaws. According to Garrison, the data can give his team an image of Mayan civilization from 3,000 years ago, only it is in a compressed composite view. Garrison calls this a ‘good problem’ to have, so we will take his word for it!

Understanding LiDAR: A Graphic

If you have never heard of LiDAR before, it may sound beyond the realm of reality. However, LiDAR is based on technology that is actually pretty easy to understand. This graphic displays the basic process that LiDAR initiates while scanning the ground.

What Made the Mayans Successful

Through the use of LiDAR technology, researchers have found a few reasons for the incredible prosperity that the Mayans enjoyed. According to one hypothesis, the healthy lowland area created a breadbasket for civilization to expand.

The Mayans as We Know Them

It’s wild to think, but we have been shorting the Mayan civilization ever since their discovery. Even though we have always touted the Maya as being advanced builders, it turns out that their lives were far more advanced and interesting than we ever could have thought. In fact, researchers have concluded that the Mayans even had their own system of highways to transport stone!

A Stunning People

Even though the ancient Mayan civilizations of yesteryear are gone, descendants of their people very much walk the streets today. According to one popular theory, nearly 42% of Guatemalans are from Mayan ancestry. If you live in Guatemala, it may be time to check your own family history!

Living Like a King

It’s impossible to fathom just how the Mayans lived and thrived for so long. Without the benefit of livestock, metalwork, or wheels, the Mayans managed to create a sprawling civilization that rivaled England. With prosperous cities and advancements like irrigation, the Mayans were ahead of their time in many ways.

Truly Understanding the Scope of the Mayans

It is going to be a long time before we truly understand the scope of impact that the Mayans had on the region. We know that the Mayans brought chocolate and tomatoes to the area as well as black beans and sweet potatoes.  We also know that they loved to dance, wore tattoos, worshipped gods, and believed in the power of sacrifice.

What else will we discover in the future about civilizations from our past?


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