Scientists have uncovered a massive 2,000-year-old Maya site hidden beneath the Guatemalan rainforest, a breakthrough that has uncovered interesting new details about the ancient civilization.
According to a study recently published in the journal Ancient Mesoamerica, the long-lost site encompassed a network of nearly 1,000 urban settlements connected by 160 kilometers (100 miles) of passages over an area of approximately 1,700 square kilometers (650 square miles).
Researchers, including researchers from the Universidad de San Carlos in Guatemala, uncovered the site using a method increasingly used in recent research on lost civilizations hidden in dense tropical rainforests.
They conducted an aerial survey with Lidar technology, in which laser light is reflected from surfaces, to map surfaces based on the time it takes for pulses to return to a receiver.
Lidar has been particularly useful in uncovering evidence of ancient settlements lost in the rainforests of Guatemala’s Mirador-Calakmul Karst Basin through the thick tree cover of the region.
“This study uses airborne Lidar data to show how complex societies organize their infrastructures to reflect their socio-economic organization and political power,” the scientists wrote in the study.
While previous studies suggested that early Mesoamerican settlements were likely sparsely populated, new findings suggest the opposite, that these settlements were densely populated.
Lidar research also revealed that the ancient Mayans built large reservoir systems for water collection and stormwater management in the region.
Several other secret sites, huge platforms and pyramid structures were also found in the studied area.
Scientists also noted that there are ball courts in some settlements. Previous research has shown that these were used by ancient people to play local sports.
Some of the unearthed sites may have also served as centers for politics, business, and entertainment.
According to the analysis, most of the settlements point to a “political/social/geographical relationship” with other nearby settlements.
Relations have likely resulted in the consolidation of the region into “at least 417 ancient cities, towns and villages with definable area boundaries”.
The scientists said the findings of ancient gateway networks, ball fields and reservoirs indicate that there was a large amount of labor and resources in the area “possibly pooled by a centralized organization and administration”.
They suspect the formation of a “state-level kingdom” in a region that would today be considered “unfavorable for demographic and architectural expansion”.