According to a new study, archaeologists discovered the ruins of a vast ancient Maya civilization that flourished more than 2,000 years ago in northern Guatemala. This long-forgotten urban web included nearly 1,000 settlements spread across 650 square miles, linked by a massive causeway system mapped out with airborne laser instruments known as LiDAR.
According to a study published this December in the journal Cambridge Core, the results of the LiDAR survey “unveiled a remarkable density of Maya sites” in Guatemala’s Mirador-Calakmul Karst Basin (MCKB), which “challenges the old notion of sparse early human occupation” in this area during the “Preclassical” period spanning 1,000 BC to 150 AD.
Researchers working under the direction of Richard Hansen, an archaeologist at Idaho State University and the director of the Mirador Basin Project, provide “an introduction to one of the largest, contiguous, regional LiDAR studies published to date in the Maya Lowlands,” which includes parts of Mexico, Guatemala, and Belize.
The LiDAR survey revealed an extraordinary density and distribution of Maya sites concentrated in the MCKB, many of them linked directly or indirectly by a vast causeway network” that includes 110 miles of raised roads. They noted that the sprawling civilization hints at “labor investments that defy organizational capabilities of lesser polities and potentially portray the strategies of governance in the Preclassic period.
LiDAR is a form of remote sensing that uses lasers to bounce off of objects to create detailed maps based on how long it takes for the pulses to return to a receiver. This technique has revolutionized many fields, including archaeology, because it can uncover evidence of past human activity that may be hidden by thick vegetation—a problem that Maya researchers frequently face—or that is otherwise invisible to traditional fieldwork on the ground.
In order to look for hidden signs of ancient settlements, Hansen and his colleagues flew airborne LiDAR devices over the MCKB for years at an altitude of about 2,000 feet. They were ecstatic to find “dense concentrations of new and previously undiscovered contemporaneous sites,” including “massive platform and pyramid constructions,” that point to the existence of the civilization.
Numerous ballcourts for Mesoamerican sports as well as a sophisticated system of canals and reservoirs for managing water are included in these constructions. The team also looked into the 230-foot-tall Danta pyramid, which was once the center of several causeways and a major tourist destination in the Maya metropolis of El Mirador.
The entire building may have required 6,000,000 to 10,000,000 person-days of labor, depending on the natural configurations of the bedrock beneath the structure. This amount of labor exceeds the capacity of polities with lower hierarchical political and economic status, and suggests a high level of organization as the sociopolitical and economic patron of such prodigious growth.
The astounding new find provides insight into the people who inhabited the thriving cities of this forested basin for more than a thousand years. Hansen and his team are hopeful that ongoing research will help to uncover the mysteries of this long-gone civilization and possibly unearth brand-new settlements that have lain dormant for many years.
The Mirador-Calakmul Karst Basin contains the tantalizing remains of the ancient kingdom-political state’s and economic framework from the Middle and Late Preclassic periods.
[Bishleshon Team History first read about it on Vice.com and they rewrite the article. Thanks to Vice.com for publishing such an article.]