A team of archeologists has discovered more than 60,000 hidden stone structures, including palaces, temples, and fortified walls, in the Guatemalan jungle.
It’s called The Megalopolis of the Mayan Snake Kings, which sounds like the subtitle of Indiana Jones V. According to Brown University’s professor of archaeology and anthropology Stephen Brown, it’s “one of the greatest advances in over 150 years of Maya archaeology,”and it may change the way we understand the Mayan civilization.
The discovery comes thanks to a technology that, in recent years, has emerged as an archeologist’s new best friend: LiDAR.
According to National Geographic, experts in Mayan culture have worked for decades in the area, trying to discover something else beyond the visible buildings already known (below). But after sweating all those years, it took only days for LiDAR to uncover more than 60,000 interconnected structures.
LiDAR stands for Light Detection And Ranging, a technology that uses millions of laser pulses fired from the air. They travel through soft materials like trees and other vegetation to create precise topographical three-dimensional models. In this case, the LiDAR map found what looks like “fortified walls, houses, palaces, elevated highways and other human-made features” that remained hidden to human eyes for centuries. Professor Brown claims that the magnitude of the discovery is “breathtaking.” Now they can then explore these 3D maps from any angle, even using augmented reality tools on the field, which will help them in the physical exploration of the sites.
The archaeologists admit that they have walked over many of these hidden structures hundreds of times without noticing them, but it only took a few flights in planes with LiDAR equipment to map out 800 square miles of thick jungle. National Geographic claims that this is actually the largest LiDAR data set ever obtained for any archeological site.
Now, archaeologists and historians have to rethink what they know about Mayan culture. Previously, the Mayan population was calculated at roughly 5 million people. Looking at these newly discovered structures, though, they believe that number may have been closer to 10 to 15 million people. In fact, the archaeologists say that, around A.D. 250-900, this megalopolis was about “twice the size of medieval England and far more densely populated.”
The discovery makes me want to grab my fedora and enlist as an intern to help explore these sites–a task that may take a whole century, according to archaeologist Francisco Estrada-Belli from Tulane University.