Scientists have discovered nearly 1,000 long-hidden Mayan settlements in Guatemala: ScienceAlert

Scientists have discovered nearly 1,000 long-hidden Mayan settlements in Guatemala: ScienceAlert

Scientists have discovered nearly 1,000 long-hidden Mayan settlements in Guatemala: ScienceAlert

When it comes to uncovering lost civilizations, this is a pretty big find: nearly 1,000 previously hidden Mayan settlements have been discovered in northern Guatemala thanks to LIDAR (Light Detection and Ranging) laser scanning from the air .

The area covered by these settlements is vast: the buildings and structures spotted by the researchers span some 650 square miles (1,683 square kilometers) of the Mirador-Calakmul Karst Basin (MCKB) and its immediate surroundings. These places would have been occupied between 1000 BC and 250 BC.

Researchers from institutions in the United States, Guatemala, and France note that the settlements they encountered appear to have been quite densely populated, offering further evidence of how these early Mesoamerican places were populated.

Mayan LIDAR scan
Structures and pavements discovered during the investigation. (Martinez et al., Ancient Mesoamerica2022)

There’s a lot to the new finds: buildings including homes, sports grounds, and religious, ceremonial, and civic centers, and vast networks of causeways and canals connecting many of them.

“Many of these settlements demonstrate a political/social/geographical relationship with other nearby settlements, which has resulted in the consolidation into at least 417 towns, villages and ancient villages with identifiable site boundaries,” the researchers write in their article published.

The observed connections between habitation points suggest that it was all part of a kingdom-like state, in the sense that common ideologies and policies would likely have been shared across many newly revealed sites.

According to the researchers, many skills would have been necessary to build these structures: lime producers, mortar and quarry specialists, lithic technicians, architects, law enforcement and religious leaders would all have been involved.

“The scale of labor in the construction of massive platforms, palaces, dams, causeways and pyramids dating from the Middle and Late Preclassic periods throughout the MCKB suggests a power to organize thousands of laborers and specialists “, write the researchers.

There is also evidence of clever drainage and water harvesting systems here, allowing easier movement of water between settlements in times of drought or flood – something the Maya are known to have been. experts.

The light-based aerial scanning system offered by LIDAR means that scientists can easily look from under forest canopies and other vegetation growth to the solid structures below. In recent years, we’ve seen it used to reveal Cambodian towns and Amazonian villages.

Now technology has uncovered another vast network of civilizations for researchers to dig into. We can expect more discoveries from this part of the world in the future, as well as more hidden places discovered by LIDAR.

“Collectively, we argue that infrastructural development demonstrates the presence of complex societies with high levels of socioeconomic organization and political power during the Middle and Late Preclassic periods,” the researchers write.

The research has been published in Ancient Mesoamerica.

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