Unprecedented study confirms massive scale of lowland Maya civilization

Unprecedented study confirms massive scale of lowland Maya civilization
Tulane University researchers Marcello Canuto and Francisco Estrada-Belli are part of a team of researchers who uncovered ancient cities in northern Guatemala through the use of jungle-penetrating LiDAR (light detection and ranging) technology. Credit: American Association for the Advancement of Science

Tulane University researchers, documenting the discovery of dozens of ancient cities in northern Guatemala through the use of jungle-penetrating Lidar (light detection and ranging) technology, have published their results in the prestigious journal Science.

The article includes the work of Marcello Canuto, director of the Middle American Research Institute at Tulane, and Francisco Estrada-Belli, a research assistant professor at Tulane and director of the Holmul Archaeological Project since 2000. They worked with assistant professor of anthropology Thomas Garrison of Ithaca College as well as other scholars to make their discoveries in the Petén forest of Guatemala.

A consortium of 18 scholars from U.S., Europe and Guatemalan institutions including the Ministry of Culture and Sports were enabled by the Fundación PACUNAM (Mayan Heritage and Nature Foundation) to analyze covering over 2,100 square kilometers of the Maya Biosphere Reserve.

"Since LiDAR technology is able to pierce through thick forest canopy and map features on the earth's surface, it can be used to produce ground maps that enable us to identify human-made features on the ground, such as walls, roads or buildings," Canuto said.

The PACUNAM LiDAR INITIATIVE (PLI), is the largest single survey in the history of Mesoamerican archaeology. The collaborative scientific effort has provided fine-grained quantitative data of unprecedented scope to refine long-standing debates regarding the nature of ancient lowland Maya urbanism. Specifically, the key identifications of this study are:

Unprecedented study confirms massive scale of lowland Maya civilization
A newly-documented site to the north of Tikal illustrates the range of features uncovered by lidar, as well as the complexity of interpreting them. The elongated building at top right is part of a so-called E Group complex and may pre-date 500 BCE. Across the valley, the large acropolis is likely a thousand years younger, though it may cover earlier constructions. Its broad access ramp overlaps an earlier causeway that runs between two eroded hilltop platforms, at the top and bottom of the image. Small houses and sunken garden enclosures cover the hillsides. Credit: Luke Auld-Thomas/PACUNAM

  • 61,480 ancient structures in the survey region, resulting in an estimated population of 7 to 11 million at height of the Late Classic period (650-800 CE). The structures include isolated houses, large palaces, ceremonial centers and pyramids.
  • 362 square kilometers of terraces or otherwise modified agricultural terrain and another 952 square kilometers of viable farmland, demonstrating a landscape heavily modified for the intensive agriculture necessary to sustainably support massive populations for many centuries.
  • 106 square kilometers of causeways within and between urban centers and numerous, sizeable defensive earthworks. This substantial infrastructure investment highlights the interconnectivity of cities and hinterlands as well as the scale of Maya warfare.
New technology makes it possible to study and visualize ancient Maya cities like never before. Credit: Luke Auld-Thomas and Francisco Estrada-Belli/PACUNAM

Both Canuto and Estrada-Belli noted that discoveries were made in a matter of minutes, compared to what would have taken years of fieldwork without the LiDAR technology.

"Seen as a whole, terraces and irrigation channels, reservoirs, fortifications and causeways reveal an astonishing amount of land modification done by the Maya over their entire landscape on a scale previously unimaginable," Estrada-Belli said.

Unprecedented study confirms massive scale of lowland Maya civilization
It takes months of analysis to translate lidar terrain data into meaningful archaeological interpretations. Familiar shaded relief terrain visualizations (left) can conceal subtle but important details, like low mounds or cross-channel terraces. More complex visualizations such as the Red Relief Image Map (center) make those details pop, but even so archaeologists must identify and classify features manually for subsequent analysis (right). All three images are of the site of Dos Torres, in the rugged karst hills between the cities of Tikal and Uaxactun. Credit: Luke Auld-Thomas and Marcello A. Canuto/PACUNAM

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Scientists find massive Mayan society under Guatemala jungle

More information: Marcello A Canuto et al. Ancient lowland Maya complexity as revealed by airborne laser scanning of northern Guatemala. Science  28 Sep 2018: Vol. 361, Issue 6409, eaau0137 DOI: 10.1126/science.aau0137
Journal information: Science

Provided by Tulane University
Citation: Unprecedented study confirms massive scale of lowland Maya civilization (2018, September 28) retrieved 19 August 2019 from https://phys.org/news/2018-09-unprecedented-massive-scale-lowland-maya.html
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Sep 28, 2018
The article http://science.sc...eaau0137 is behind a paywall. The video zooms out from a location approximately https://www.googl...!5m1!1e4 in Parque Nacional Tikal.

Oct 01, 2018
I have a hypothesis. Maybe these people were building pyramids and high buildings so they could find their cities in the jungle from a large distance.

Oct 01, 2018
The article http://science.sc...eaau0137 in Parque Nacional Tikal.

For a little fun throw the yellow guy onto the map. :)

Oct 01, 2018
More evidence of the extreme danger these cultures posed to euro civilization. Their cities were bigger, their armies larger, and they had advanced knowledge of chemistry and metallurgy. Had they gotten hold of euro tech in gunpowder and ocean navigation it would have been them doing the invading.

And they had the precious metals and drugs to buy this tech from independent traders. Had these commodities found their way eastward they would have destroyed euro culture and collapsed its economic system.

And so a campaign was conceived. Europe developed the weapons to destroy these cultures and the ships to get there. Martial law enveloped the subcontinent for several gens and venturing into the atlantic was deemed a great heresy.

And at the proper time the invasion was launched. Columbus established the first bridgehead by traveling along the african coast and turning west at exactly the proper latitude to take him into the Carribean. Islands were cleared for staging.

Oct 02, 2018
Dude, you are misinterpreting history. The Maya civilization suffered a collapse 500 years before Columbus. And they were no threat to Europeans as they were warring among themselves. Except for that case when a Spanish ship crashed into Mayan shore and all but 2 sailors who ran away were sacrificed by the locals...

Oct 02, 2018
misinterpreting history
Of the 10k Mayan books originally found, only 3 remain. The rest were destroyed by the church. The history of this whole campaign was intentionally obliterated and replaced by nonsense.

Remember when the Inca were considered peaceful colorful people? And then they found all the ritual sacrifice.

To understand what happened we need to analyze this crime scene forensically. We need to ascertain motive, means, and opportunity. Egyptians, phoenicians, and others traded with the American civilizations. Vikings were in the Caribbean. So euros had to know all about them, including the extreme dangers dangers they posed.

And it is not unreasonable to assume that priestly euro emissaries made early contact with the intent of neutralizing this threat.

Oct 02, 2018
warring among themselves
So were euros. So were everybody else, everywhere, always. And overpopulation us always the cause. The question is, was this conflict constructive or destructive?

The idea that history is all happenstance and that our civilization has survived by mere chance, is also nonsense. What we do know is that order was repeatedly established throughout history, only to collapse time and again from the effects of overpopulation.

I think early on leaders began to accept the inevitability of conflict, and began to use it constructively to solve their overpopulation problems. They began staging these wars and predetermining the results to their mutual benefit.

Greek wars among the city states were constructive. They solved mutual problems and strengthened the culture as a whole.

And Aristotle was able to engineer a campaign to conquer the known world by teaching both macedonians and the persians how to wage constructive conflict and establish empire.

Oct 02, 2018
Leaders knew that the people were their true enemies. Their numbers would always grow faster than the food supply, and soon enough they would be blaming whoever was in charge for their misery. War, revolt, ecologic destruction and collapse would always ensue. The city mounds would add another layer of ash and rubble.

So leaders began to bond together to wage war against the people. They intermarried, and a tribe of Leaders emerged, dedicated to saving the earth from the people who inhabited it.

"For god so loved the WORLD..." -not the people. God would promise the people absolutely anything in order to save IT from THEM.

This idea and culture was an easy sell to desperate rulers everywhere. It quickly spread around the globe. And it explains the sudden rise of civilizations on all the continents, including the americas.

Our Shepherds lead us into the valley of death and make us to lie down in green pastures, in heaps, in droves. Fertilizer.

Oct 02, 2018
Is that from Samurai Jack? o.0

Oct 03, 2018
It's from my own great and terrible brain. It's from accepting the inevitable and realizing the obvious.

Oct 03, 2018
Huh. I googled 'great and terrible' and got this

-a book series by a very strange individual indeed

"Chris Stewart is a multiple New York Times bestselling author who has published more than a dozen books, has been selected by the Book of the Month Club, and has released titles in multiple languages in six countries. He is a world-record-setting Air Force pilot (fastest nonstop flight around the world) and former president and CEO of The Shipley Group, a nationally recognized consulting and training company. Currently, he is a U.S. Congressman representing the 2nd Congressional District in Utah."

-I do believe this Tribe exists, and they seem to enjoy exposing their machinations in cryptic ways. They wrote the bible after all.

So I'm going to have to peruse these books and see if they're enlightening.

Oct 03, 2018
"Make no little plans; they have no magic to stir men's blood and probably themselves will not be realized. Make big plans; aim high in hope and work." — Daniel Hudson Burnham (1846-1912) architect, freemason

Oct 03, 2018
Hmmm hmmm hmmm

Chris Stewart
"Utah's 2nd District Congressman. Former Air Force B-1 pilot, author, House Intelligence & Appropriations Committees."

"During his time in the Air Force, Stewart set three world speed records including the fastest nonstop flight around the world [in a B-1]... Stewart was awarded the Distinguished Graduate (top of the class) designation..."

"Shipley also participates in government anti-terrorism training, corporate security and executive preparedness consulting..."

"[His book] The Miracle of Freedom: Seven Tipping Points That Saved the World became a New York Times Bestseller within two weeks of publication, and was selected for the National Communications Award by the Freedom Foundation at Valley Forge... co-written with his brother, U.S. district judge Ted Stewart. The Miracle of Freedom was endorsed by radio/talk show host Glenn Beck, and Beck's coverage is credited with the book becoming a bestseller..."

-quite the polymath.

Oct 03, 2018
Well, the survivors get to censor the histories.

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