It’s long been thought that the dense jungles of Central America might hide hidden ruins. Ruins of ancient Mayan civilizations, and other fascinating historical artifacts could be overgrown and concealed in the thick overgrowth. That has all been proven true in an exciting new aerial survey undertaken led by Marcello A. Canuto from Tulane University.
Lidar uses pulsed laser light, in this case from a plane, onto the jungle below. The reflected light creates a high-resolution, 3D map of the surface, exposing what the naked eye can’t see alone. Amazingly, this survey unearthed 61,480 distinct ancient structures hidden within the dense tropical rainforests of Guatemala!
“Even though some earlier lidar studies had prepared us for this, just seeing the sheer quantity of ancient structures across the landscape was mind-boggling,” Thomas Garrison, a co-author of the new study and an archaeologist at Ithaca College, told Gizmodo. “I’ve been walking around the jungles of the Maya area for 20 years, but lidar showed me how much I hadn’t seen. There were three to four times as many structures as I had imagined. One site that I work at, El Palmar, is now 40 times larger than we had thought! That’s a totally different kind of place than what we had imaged—and it requires a totally new interpretation.”
“These images represent the entire duration of the ancient Maya civilization. It’s over 2,000 years compressed into the images you are seeing,” he said. “Not everything was occupied all at the same time, and it is now our job as archaeologists to sort all of this out. But we’re certainly happy to have these new problems!”