Laser Technology Uncovers 'Megalopolis' Below Guatemalan Jungle

Laser Technology Uncovers 'Megalopolis' Below Guatemalan Jungle

The discovery of the Mayan megalopolis, which included agricultural fields and irrigation channels, was announced on Thursday by a team of American, European, and Guatemalan archaeologists working together with the Foundation for Maya Cultural and Natural Heritage (PACUNAM).

The study estimates that roughly 10 million people may have lived within the Maya Lowlands, meaning that kind of massive food production might have been needed.

"We've had this western conceit that complex civilizations can't flourish in the tropics, that the tropics are where civilizations go to die", Marcello Canuto, an archaeologist with Tulane University, explains.

Researchers have identified more than 60,000 previously unknown structures in northern Guatemala after extensive aerial LiDAR (Light Detection And Ranging) surveys.

"Most people quietly believed that the Maya population was about 5 million".

Mayan pyramids
REUTERS Bernardo Montoya

"There's state involvement here, because we see large canals being dug that are re-directing natural water flows", said Thomas Garrison, Assistant Professor of Anthropology at Ithaca College in NY. More than 800 square miles of the Maya Biosphere Reserve in Guatemala's Peten region have been mapped, according to a report by National Geographic, which is airing a television special about the project Tuesday. Their descendants still live in the area. "Now we have so much data", Garrison said.

The earliest Maya settlements were built in about 1,000 B.C. and most major Maya cities had fallen into ruin by about 900 A.D. The civilization reached its peak in what is present-day southern Mexico, Guatemala, and parts of Belize, El Salvador and Honduras between 250 and 950 B.C. The findings and the technology behind them - LiDAR (light detection and ranging) - will be the focus of a new National Geographic documentary to premiere on February 6 at 9 p.m. EST titled "Lost Treasures of the Maya Snake King". The project has produced the largest LiDAR data set ever obtained for archaeological research.

In a way, the structures were hiding in plain sight.

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.

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