Sun, Feb 04, 2018 - Page 4 News List

Mayan society found under jungle

HINDER TO HELPER:Researchers said they felt ‘sheepish’ after discovering what lay beneath the jungle, which had helped preserve the ruins and long deterred discovery


A digital 3D image provided by Guatemala’s Mayan Heritage and Nature Foundation shows a depiction of the Mayan archeological site at Tikal in Guatemala created using light detection and ranging aerial mapping technology.

Photo: AP

Researchers using a high-tech aerial mapping technique have found tens of thousands of previously undetected Mayan houses, buildings, defense works and pyramids in the dense jungle of Guatemala’s Peten region, suggesting that millions more people lived there than previously thought.

The discoveries, which included industrial-sized agricultural fields and irrigation canals, were announced on Thursday by an alliance of US, European and Guatemalan archeologists working with Guatemala’s Mayan Heritage and Nature Foundation.

The study estimates that about 10 million people might have lived within the Maya Lowlands, meaning that kind of massive food production might have been needed.

“That is two to three times more [inhabitants] than people were saying there were,” Tulane University professor of anthropology Marcello Canuto said.

Researchers used a mapping technique called light detection and ranging (LiDAR), which bounces pulsed laser light off the ground, revealing contours hidden by dense foliage.

The images revealed that the Mayans altered the landscape in a much broader way than previously thought — in some areas, 95 percent of available land was cultivated.

“Their agriculture is much more intensive and therefore sustainable than we thought, and they were cultivating every inch of the land,” Tulane research assistant professor Francisco Estrada-Belli said, adding that the ancient Mayans partly drained swampy areas that have not been considered worth farming since.

The extensive defensive fences, ditch-and-rampart systems and irrigation canals suggest a highly organized workforce.

“There’s state involvement here, because we see large canals being dug that are redirecting natural water flows,” said Thomas Garrison, assistant professor of anthropology at Ithaca College in New York.

The 2,100km2 of mapping vastly expands the area that was intensively occupied by the Maya, whose culture flourished between about 1,000 BC and 900 AD.

It detected about 60,000 structures, including four major Mayan ceremonial centers with plazas and pyramids.

Garrison said that this year, he went to the field with the LiDAR data to look for one of the roads revealed.

“I found it, but if I had not had the LiDAR and known that that’s what it was, I would have walked right over it, because of how dense the jungle is,” he said.

Unlike some other ancient cultures, whose fields, roads and outbuildings have been destroyed by subsequent generations of farming, the jungle grew over abandoned Mayan fields and structures, both hiding and preserving them, he added.

“In this, the jungle, which has hindered us in our discovery efforts for so long, has actually worked as this great preservative tool of the impact the culture had across the landscape,” Garrison said.

LiDAR revealed a previously undetected structure between the two sites that Garrison says “can’t be called anything other than a Maya fortress.”

“It’s this hill-top citadel that has these ditch and rampart systems... When I went there, one of these things in 9m tall,” he said.

“As soon as we saw [the LiDAR images] we all felt a little sheepish, because these were things that we had been walking over all the time,” Canuto said.

Comments will be moderated. Keep comments relevant to the article. Remarks containing abusive and obscene language, personal attacks of any kind or promotion will be removed and the user banned. Final decision will be at the discretion of the Taipei Times.

TOP top