By David C, Junior Writer

Thursday, February 1, 2018 (NEW FRONTIER NEWS) – A major breakthrough in Mayan archaeology has revealed the ruins of more than 60,000 houses, palaces, elevated highways, and other human-made features in the Northern Guatemalan jungle.

Implementing the use of LiDAR (Light Detection & Ranging), scholars were able to remove the tree canopy in a digital mapping program, revealing a vastly more advanced civilization than other specialists had originally believed it to be.

“The LiDAR images make it clear that this entire region was a settlement system whose scale and population density had been grossly underestimated,” said Thomas Garrison, an archaeologist from Ithaca College.

Results suggest that the Central American native civilizations were comparable to ancient Greece or China, rather than loosely connected, sparsely populated cities, as previously thought.

LiDAR systems also show highways connecting urban centers and quarries, in addition to the other marvels found in the breakthrough. What’s more, it also shows advanced irrigation and terracing systems.

“We’ve had this western conceit that complex civilizations can’t flourish in the tropics, that the tropics are where civilizations go to die,” said Canuto, a conductor of archaeological operations at a Guatemalan site called La Corona. Canuto adds that “With the new LiDAR-based evidence from Central America and [Cambodia’s] Angkor Wat, we now have to consider that complex societies may have formed in the tropics and made their way outward from there.”

It’s said that there’s so much data contained, that it could take many years to sort through it all. However, the surveys are already showing surprising insightfulness into the Mayans. Everything from inter-urban connectivity and militarization to settlement patterns.

“Most people had been comfortable with population estimates of around 5 million,” said Estrada-Belli, director of a multi-disciplinary archaeology project in Holmul, Guatemala, adding that “With this new data it’s no longer unreasonable to think that there were 10 to 15 million people there—including many living in low-lying, swampy areas that many of us had thought uninhabitable.”

Almost all Mayan cities were connected with wide highways, which suggest that they were heavily trafficked by traders and other travelers.

One extraordinary finding was that of their extremely common defenses, such as walls, terraces, fortresses, and the like, suggesting that wars were not only towards the end of the Mayan period but were, in fact, enduring and common.

This survey of the Mayan city is the first phase of multiple parts of the PACUDUM LiDAR Initiative, a project that will span 3 years and 14,000 square KM of Guatemalan lowlands.

“The ambition and the impact of this project is just incredible,” said Kathryn Reese-Taylor, a University of Calgary archaeologist and Maya specialist unassociated with the survey. She adds that “After decades of combing through the forests, no archaeologists had stumbled across these sites. More importantly, we never had the big picture that this data set gives us. It really pulls back the veil and helps us see the civilization as the ancient Maya saw it.”


Clynes, T. (2018). Exclusive: Laser Scans Reveal Maya “Megalopolis” Below Guatemalan Jungle. Retrieved from