Laser mapping uncovers dozens of ancient Mayan cities
Tehran (KNA) - Advanced laser mapping has revealed more than 60,000 ancient Mayan structures beneath the jungles of northern Guatemala.
Set across dozens of hidden cities, the discoveries include houses, palaces and a 90-foot-tall pyramid that was previously thought to be a hill.
Made possible through special laser-equipped airplanes that can "see" through dense jungle, the groundbreaking research suggests that Mayan metropolises were far larger and more complex than previously thought.
Evidence of agriculture, irrigation, quarries and defensive fortifications were widespread, and extensive road networks point to initially unknown levels of interconnectivity between settlements.
The extent of the findings, first reported by National Geographic, may transform our understanding of how Mesoamerican civilization operated, according to one of the study's co-directors, Marcello Canuto from Tulane University in New Orleans.
"We're discovering that there is more of everything, and the scale is much bigger," he said in a phone interview. "In any given area there were more structures, more buildings, more canals and more terraces (than expected).'"
By extrapolating data from the 2,100-square-kilometer (811-square-mile) site, researchers have also revised their population estimates for the region. They now believe that 10 million people lived in the Maya Lowlands (an area covering parts of present-day Guatetmala and Mexico), a number that is "many times larger" than indicated by previous research.
"The general conceit over the last 100 years has been that the tropics were a bad place to have civilizations and that (the climate) is not conducive to sustaining complex societies," said Canuto, who has worked on Mayan archeology for more than 30 years. "There has always been this assumption that Mayan society was less populated and that there wasn't any infrastructure -- that they were small, independent city-states without much interaction.
"But we're finding that this just isn't true. This research shows that, not only were there lots of people, but also lots of ways that they modified the landscape to render it more productive. The defensive structures that we're finding (also suggest) that there were lots of people and lots of resources, which can create lots of competition."