Lost Mayan Ruins in Guatemala are Rewriting History
Archeologists have uncovered the remains of lost Mayan ruins found deep in the jungles of Guatemala, and it is rewriting what we know about Mayans.
Deep within the jungles of Guatemala, buried under centuries of growth, a group of archeologist just made a discovery that is already rewriting history as we know it.
Using Light Detection and Ranging (LiDAR) technology (the same tech used to look inside the Pyramids of Giza without causing them any harm), researchers discovered the ruins of more than 60,000 Mayan structures in the Petén region of northern Guatemala, including palaces, fortresses, and elevated highways. The discovery challenges earlier assertions that the Mayans lived in mostly isolated cities, and it radically changes the previous estimates of how big the Mayan empire really was.
Headed by the PACUNAM Foundation, a Guatemalan non-profit that specializes in scientific research and cultural preservation, the researchers were able to uncover the ruins by taking to the skies above the “Maya Biosphere Reserve” and using LiDAR above the dense overgrowth. The discovery makes it clear that the population density of the region has up until this point, been “grossly underestimated,” according to the team behind it.
Using LiDAR, the project mapped out over 800 square miles of jungle terrain. Along with the structures, the LiDAR images revealed raised highways connecting the major urban areas to quarries capable of providing new building materials, and complex irrigation and agricultural areas that appear to have been designed to feed a huge population. The images also discovered the ruins of military fortresses, suggesting that the Mayans were also more sophisticated in that area than previously thought and that they were frequently engaged in military activities for centuries.
There has never been any evidence of the Mayans using the wheel, and their domestication of animals was fairly limited – they never used beasts of burden, which would have limited their technological growth. This discovery, however, suggests that the Mayans were far more sophisticated than previously thought, putting them around the level of ancient Greece or China.
The images also showed that swampy areas previously thought uninhabitable were likely relatively densely populated. Previously, the best estimates were that at the height of their civilization (between 250 and 900 A.D.), the Mayan civilization was around 5 million. The new discovery suggests that it might have been much bigger though, as much as three times bigger, putting it between 10-15 million and covering an area twice the size of medieval England, but more densely populated.
The layout of the structures also suggests that trade and traffic between the cities was extremely common, and the elevated highways show that the Mayans were keenly aware of the issues it had regarding water – too much and too little – so they used sophisticated methods to control it, including canals, reservoirs, and more.
Unfortunately, one other discovery the researchers made using the LiDAR is thousands of pits dug over the centuries by modern-day grave robbers. The area has also suffered recently due to the increasing rate at which the jungles of Central America are disappearing, as settlers burn and clear areas.
The discovery is just the first step in the exploration of the area. Mapping the initial 800 square miles was just part of “Phase One.” In total, the group plans to use LiDAR to map around 5,000 square feet over the next three years, extending into Mexico. So stay tuned, there may be more to come.