Monday, February 5, 2018

LiDAR reveals Mayan mega city hidden in Guatemalan jungle

The sheer size of the megalopolis suggests that Mayan populations were bigger than we thought. Previous estimates put the Mayan people’s population at around 5 million, but now it’s possible that there were 10 to 15 million of them. The fact that the team discovered houses, pyramids, palaces and elevated highways even though Mayans didn’t use wheels or relied on beasts on burden indicates that they had an organized workforce.

Since the cities in the hidden megalopolis were connected by wide causeways, the Mayans likely interacted regularly and might’ve had established trade routes. Further, all the ramparts and fortresses found in the ruins show that “warfare,” as team member and archaeologist Thomas Garrison explained, “wasn’t only happening toward the end of the civilization.”

While we mostly talk about LiDAR as a system that helps self-driving cars and robots “see” their environments, scientists have also been using it to survey the environment without disturbing it. That’s why it’s the perfect tool for PACUNAM’s scientists — aside from the fact that physically looking for the ruins would’ve taken forever, Guatemala is already losing 10 percent of its forests every year to agriculture and human settlement. In fact, we’ll probably hear more discoveries in the future, since this is only the initiative’s first phase: the organization plans to use LiDAR to map over 5,000 square miles of Guatemala’s lowlands in the future.

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