Monday, February 05, 2018

Beneath the Jungle in Guatemala ... a Maya Fortress

This digital 3D image provided by ...
Canuto & Auld-Thomas, PACUNAM via AP 
This digital 3D image provided by Guatemala’s Mayan Heritage and Nature Foundation, PACUNAM, shows a depiction of the Mayan archaeological site at Tikal in Guatemala created using LiDAR aerial mapping technology. Researchers announced Thursday, Feb. 1, 2018, that using a high-tech aerial mapping technique they have found tens of thousands of previously undetected Mayan houses, buildings, defense works and roads in the dense jungle of Guatemala’s Peten region.
 "Their agriculture is much more intensive and therefore sustainable than we thought, and they were cultivating every inch of the land."
Francisco Estrade-Beli, research assistant professor, Tulane University, New Orleans, USA

"There's state involvement here, because we see large canals being dug that are redirecting natural water flows."
"I found it [a road revealed by LiDAR data], but if I had not had the LiDAR and known that that's what it was, I would have walked right over it, because of how dense the jungle is."
"In this the jungle, which has hindered us in our discovery efforts for so long, has actually worked as this great preservative tool of the impact the culture had across the landscape."
"It's this hill-top citadel that has these ditch and rampart systems ... when I went there, one of these things is nine meters tall."
Thomas Garrison, assistant professor of anthropology, Ithaca College, New York

"As soon as we saw this, we all felt a little sheepish, because these were things [the ancient structures] that we had been walking over all the time."
"That is two to three times more [inhabitants] than people were saying there were [revealed through their discoveries]."
Marcello A. Canuto, professor of anthropology, Tulane University
A LiDAR image from Tikal, the most important Maya city.
PACUNAM/Marcello Canuto & Luke Auld-Thomas

A mapping technique identified as LiDAR was used by researchers from the United States, Europe and Guatemala, working with Guatemala's Mayan Heritage and Nature Foundation, which made it possible to reveal an immense area in the Maya Lowlands comprised of various buildings and agricultural fields over a 2,100 square kilometre area previously unknown to exist and dating back between approximately 1,000 BC to 900 AD.

The mapping system revealed the presence of about 60,000 individual structures, among them four major Mayan ceremonial centres complete with plazas and pyramids. The high-tech aerial mapping system found tens of thousands of houses, buildings, defence works and pyramids buried deep within the dense jungle of Guatemala's Peten region. Making it obvious to the anthropologists involved in the revelation that millions more people inhabited the area, well over what the population was previously thought to have been.

It is an astonishing finding, inclusive of vast agricultural fiends and irrigation canals. According to the study, the revised estimate of the population of the area is that about ten million people may have been residents of the lowlands, and with that supposition comes the natural corollary that a massive agricultural effort would have had to be undertaken to produce sufficient food for all those people, on an organized and industrial scale of successful farming.

The LiDAR technique: Light Detection And Ranging system, bounces pulsed laser light off the ground, in the process revealing hidden contours well covered by the dense foliage of the Mayan jungle. Images were revealed indicating that the Maya were capable of altering their landscape prodigiously, well beyond what had previously been considered possible or likely. Fully 95 percent of available arable land was under cultivation.

The ancient Maya were obviously proficient food growers. They partially drained swampy portions of the area at their time of existence, long since abandoned to farming. They built extensive fences for defensive purposes, comprised of ditch-and-rampart systems, alongside irrigation canals, all work obviously accomplished by a skilled and organized workforce. The area uncovered goes far to expand known areas intensively occupied by this ancient civilization whose descendants still live in the region.

Unlike other ancient cultures, where fields, roads and outbuilding have been transformed over time through succeeding generations of farming, the Mayan jungle grew over the abandoned Maya fields and structures, effectively hiding, but also preserving them, as pointed out by Dr. Garrison who specializes in the city of El Zotz, near Tikal.

Not far from the sites tourists already know, such as Tikal, laser technology has uncovered about 60,000 homes, palaces, tombs and even highways, archeologists announced last week.
Not far from the sites tourists already know, such as Tikal, laser technology has uncovered about 60,000 homes, palaces, tombs, and even highways, archeologists announced last week.   Justin Lane/New York Times/file 2018

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