LiDAR Finds 400+ Lost Maya, Olmec Sites in Mexico

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November 6, 2021

Yet another big find for LiDAR-aided archaeology, as a new survey in southern Mexico has revealed hundreds of sites used by the Maya and Olmec.

Lidar find in Mexico

A team of archaeologists using the cutting-edge technology surveyed an area covering 32,800 square miles found 478 ceremonial sites for which ground-based surveying would have been insufficient. In some cases, vegetation was too thick for; in other cases, the pattern of a site could be seen only from the air.

Mexico's Institution Nacional de Estadística y Geográfia conducted the survey. The team, which included University of Arizona archaeologist Takeshi Inomata, found ceremonial sites dating to the same time period as the well-known Aguada Fenix, site of the Maya's largest known monument, built between 1100 B.C. and 400 B.C.

The team of archaeologists also found stronger links between the Maya civilization and the earlier Olmec civilization, in the form of a site just like that found at Aguada Fenix.

LiDAR is an aerial-based technology that shoots super-quick lasers out of an airplane and measures how long it takes the light to bounce off what's on the ground and hit cutting-edge detectors onboard the plane. The process is similar to the ways that bats use sonar to hunt. LiDAR (the acronym for Light Detecting and Ranging) mapping speed can reach 150,000 pulses a second.

Angamuco remains

Archaeologists have used the cutting-edge technology to reveal many new finds in what is now Central America, revealing more and more of the secrets that vegetation and/or civilization have so far covered. A team in 2018 revealed the ruins of more than 60,000 houses, palaces, elevated highways, and other evidence of Mayan civilization in what is now Guatemala. As well, another set of researchers found that Angamuco (left), a massive settlement in what is now Mexico that was built the the Purélpecha, a civilization that rivaled the Aztecs, was twice as big as the capital, Tzintzúntzan and perhaps as big as today's New York City.

It's not just in Central America, either. LiDAR-wielding archaeologists in Cambodia in 2019 revealed the remains of Mahendraparvata, one of the first captaisl of the ancient Khmer Empire.

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