Using state-of-the-art laser technology, archaeologists uncovered over 61,000 previously unknown Maya structures deep in the Guatemalan jungle, including foundations for houses, military fortifications, and elevated causeways.
The finding “compels” a reevaluation of the complexity of Maya civilization, according to new research published in the journal Science.
The paper, which builds on previous research published in February, suggests the Maya society of the Late Classic Period (650 – 800 CE) was far more populous and politically organized than previously thought.
“We’ll need 100 years to go through all [the data] and really understand what we’re seeing,” Francisco Estrada-Belli, a Tulane University archaeologist and researcher on the project, told National Geographic when the previous research was released.
The researchers estimate that the region could have supported a population of approximately 11 million people, bolstered by a network of heavily-fortified roadways and irrigation canals connecting vast, urbanized areas.
To get at that estimate, the team, led by Marcello A. Canuto and Estrada-Belli of Tulane University, and Thomas G. Garrison of Ithaca, used Lidar data to map 12 areas in Peten, Guatemala.
At the Maya civilization’s zenith, some 1,500 years ago, emissaries from different cities may have used the elevated causeways to trade goods like corn, or even for military conquest. The researchers found evidence that people had expertly altered the landscape to control the flow of precipitation to water crops and keep floodwaters from damaging buildings.