Enormous Ancient City Uncovered by Lasers in Guatemalan Jungle

Friday, 02 February 2018 - 7:58PM
Technology
Friday, 02 February 2018 - 7:58PM
Enormous Ancient City Uncovered by Lasers in Guatemalan Jungle
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Wikimedia Commons/Jan Harenburg
Move over Indiana Jones - modern archeologists use lasers to get stuff done.

A recent expedition in the jungle of Guatemala in South America has uncovered the remains of a huge, sprawling Mayan city which was long since buried under foliage. While experts had previously been aware of some form of ancient settlement in the area, this new find reveals that the city is at least four times larger than expected, suggesting this area was far more populated than previously believed.

The discovery was made through the use of a very modern archeological tool. LIDAR (light and radar) is a technology that's being put to use in a variety of ways in the modern world, including aiding automated robots and cars in navigating their surroundings. The technology can also be used to create 3D maps of an environment, ignoring foliage and plant life in order to display what lies hidden underneath.

In this case, "what lies hidden underneath" was around 60,000 ancient homes that were constructed around 1,200 years ago. Thomas Garrison, an archeologist for Ithaca College, said the following to National Geographic:

Opening quote
"The LIDAR images make it clear that this entire region was a settlement system whose scale and population density had been grossly underestimated."
Closing quote


The implications for this find are stunning, as it suggests that the ancient Mayan civilization that encompassed the city was even more densely populated than anyone previously believed.

Based on brand new estimates that take this data into account, it seems that around twenty million people lived in the area, which was half the population of Europe at the time. Considering that the Mayan kingdom was only the size of Italy, this was probably one of the world's most bustling metropolises of the time.




In addition to the sheer size of the city, archeologists also found evidence of advanced technology, such as raised highways, complex irrigation systems, canals, and reservoirs. This challenges traditional perceptions somewhat, as the level of sophistication on display doesn't gel with commonly held beliefs about how primitive the Mayans were.

In the words of Marcello Canuto of Tulane University, also speaking to National Geographic:

Opening quote
"We've had this western conceit that complex civilisations can't flourish in the tropics, that the tropics are where civilisations go to die. But with the new LIDAR-based evidence from Central America and [Cambodia's] Angkor Wat, we now have to consider that complex societies may have formed in the tropics and made their way outward from there."
Closing quote


This is but one area of the world where our understanding of ancient peoples has been aided by modern technology. The Egyptian pyramids have been subjected to several recent studies which have discovered mysterious architectural decisions that have remained a mystery for millennia, and it's likely that there are still plenty of new wonders to be uncovered now that we're getting better at carefully studying ancient structures.

It's good to know that archeology hasn't become boring now that so many of the ancient wonders of the world have already been so thoroughly studied. As it turns out, there's an awful lot more mysteries out there.
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