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Lost Mayan ‘Mega Cities’ Discovered Under Jungle in Guatemala

Researchers have uncovered more than 60,000 structures, including pyramids, palaces and causeways through the power of ground-penetrating laser technology.

The breakthrough laser technology, dubbed LiDAR (light detection and ranging), was used to map 2,100 square kilometers of the Maya Biosphere Reserve in the Peten region of Guatemala and revealed a huge interconnected network of ancient cities with their own highways and complex irrigation and terracing systems. The discovery was made possible by the researchers removing the tree canopy from aerial images of the landscape.

“The LiDAR images make it clear that this entire region was a settlement system whose scale and population density had been grossly underestimated,” said Thomas Garrison, an Ithaca College archaeologist and National Geographic Explorer who took part in the project.

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, suggesting that millions more people lived there than previously thought

The groundbreaking discovery has changed everything researchers have ever known about Mayan civilization, proving that it was extremely advanced with a population estimated at 10-15 million.

“This was a civilization that was literally moving mountains,” co-researcher Marcello Canuto said. “We’ve had this western conceit that complex civilizations can’t flourish in the tropics, that the tropics are where civilizations go to die. But with the new LiDAR-based evidence from Central America and [Cambodia’s] Angkor Wat, we now have to consider that complex societies may have formed in the tropics and made their way outward from there.”

Furthermore, the scientists found defensive walls, fortresses and terraces that showed warfare was “large-scale and systematic, and endured over many years,” as well as determined that the greatest Mayan city ever known, Tikal, turned out to be up to four times larger than previously known.

The researchers also suggested that the Mayan royal dynasty known as the Snake Kings ruled over an area stretching from Mexico and Belize to Guatemala, having conquered Tikal in 562.

The three-year project is expected to eventually map more than 14,000 square kilometers of Guatemala.

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