History

See how LiDAR brings a hidden Maya site to life and discovers a new major discovery

Friday, 2 February

Thanks to revolutionary technology, researchers have made what is being hailed as a “major breakthrough” in Maya archaeology. 

Researchers have identified the ruins of more than 60,000 houses, palaces, elevated highways, and other human-made features that have been hidden for centuries under the jungles of northern Guatemala thanks to a laser-based technology. LiDAR (short for “Light Detection And Ranging”) digitally removed the tree canopy from aerial images of the now-unpopulated landscape, revealing the ruins of a sprawling pre-Columbian civilisation that was far more complex and interconnected than most Maya specialists had supposed.

In addition to hundreds of previously unknown structures, the LiDAR images also revealed raised highways connecting urban centers and quarries. Complex irrigation and terracing systems supported intensive agriculture capable of feeding masses of workers who dramatically reshaped the landscape.