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Ancient Mayan city discovered
By Jerry Brownstein
Scientists using a high-tech aerial laser mapping technique have found tens of thousands of previously undetected Mayan houses, buildings, defence works and pyramids in the dense jungles of Guatemala. The discoveries, which included a massive fortress and huge agricultural fields with irrigation canals, were announced by an alliance of US, European and Guatemalan archaeologists. They estimate that roughly 10 million people may have lived within these Maya Lowlands. “That is two to three times more inhabitants than were thought previously,” said Marcello Canuto, a professor of anthropology at Tulane University (US).
The researchers used a mapping technique called Lidar, which stands for light detection and ranging. It 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% of the available land was cultivated. The extensive defensive fences, ditch-and-rampart systems and irrigation canals suggest a highly organised workforce.
This 2,100 square kilometres site vastly expands the area that was intensively occupied by the Maya, whose culture flourished between 1,000 BC and 900 AD. About 60,000 individual structures were discovered, including four major Mayan ceremonial centres with plazas and pyramids. Professor Canuto noted that the discovery was aided by the fact that the jungle grew over the abandoned Maya fields and structures, both hiding and preserving them. “The jungle, which has hindered us in our discovery efforts in the past, has actually worked as a great preservative tool in this case.”