HomePLANTS & ANIMALSArchaeologyHuge 2,000-year-old Mayan civilization discovered in northern Guatemala

Huge 2,000-year-old Mayan civilization discovered in northern Guatemala

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A team of researchers from multiple institutions in the United States have discovered a massive 2,000-year-old Mayan civilization in northern Guatemala. The group used LiDAR to conduct a survey of the area. The study was published in the journal Ancient Mesoamerica.

LiDAR is a radar-like detection system that uses laser light rather than radio waves. In recent years, it has been used to search for signs of ancient civilizations in dense tropical rainforests. Lasers used in such systems can penetrate the vegetative canopies that cover rainforests. It reveals what lies beneath them.

In this new effort, the researchers were mapping parts of Guatemala. At that time, they came across what they describe as a vast ancient Mayan civilization. They could see from their maps that the ancient civilization was made up of over 1,000 settlements covering approximately 650 square miles. Multiple causeways linked the majority of these. The researchers were also able to see that the people who once lived in the settlements were densely packed. It contradicts theories that early Mesoamerican settlements were sparsely populated.

The causeways (cleared and raised beds used as roads) totaled 110 miles of navigable pathways. This made it relatively easy for the civilization’s inhabitants to visit other settlements. According to the researchers, the road network would have allowed for collective labour efforts.

The researchers discovered large platforms and pyramids in some settlements. It implies that some of them served as centralised hubs for work, recreation and politics. They also mention that some of the settlements had ball courts. Some prior research has shown that these were used for a variety of regional sports. The researchers also discovered that the civilization’s people built canals to move water and reservoirs to hold it for use during dry periods.

More information: Richard D. Hansen et al, LiDAR analyses in the contiguous Mirador-Calakmul Karst Basin, Guatemala: an introduction to new perspectives on regional early Maya socioeconomic and political organization, Ancient Mesoamerica (2022). DOI: 10.1017/S0956536122000244

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