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Photo: Richard D. Hansen et al. (2022)

A massive Mayan settlement discovered in Guatemala

About 1,000 Mayan settlements with pyramids and ball courts, dating back more than 2,000 years, appeared in Guatemala.

Photo: Richard D. Hansen et al. (2022)

New research has shown nearly 1,000 Mayan settlements in Guatemala, with pyramids and ballparks dating back more than 2,000 years.

The area found covers about 1,000 settlements in an area of ​​1,683 square kilometers. It is connected by an enormous system of gateways mapped by airborne kaser devices known as lidars.

LiDAR results revealed an extraordinary density of Mayan sites in Guatemala’s Mirador-Calaknul Karst Basin (MCKB) in the “Pre-Classical” period from 1000 BC to 150 AD, challenging the notion of previously sparse human habitat in this area.

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Richard Hansen, an archaeologist and director of the Mirador Basin Project, is conducting studies. It offers a look at the largest contiguous, regional LiDAR studies published to date in the Maya Plains, a region that covers parts of Mexico, Guatemala, and Belize.

LiDAR studies revealed an extraordinary density and distribution of Maya sites concentrated in the MCKB. Widespread civilization challenges the organizational capabilities of smaller governments. The potential of the region points to the Pre-Classical period.

How do you do LiDAR?

LiDAR is a remote sensing technology that bounces lasers off surfaces to create detailed maps based on the time it takes for laser pulses to return to a receiver. This method has revolutionized archeology, among many other fields, because it can reveal traces of past human activities that may have been buried under dense vegetation. This is a very common problem for Maya researchers.

Hansen and his colleagues have flown LiDAR devices over the MCKB at an altitude of about 600 meters for years to search for hidden traces of ancient settlements.

The research has uncovered dense concentrations of new and previously unknown contemporary sites, including massive platform and pyramid structures suggesting the existence of a central and complex political structure.

Did the Mayan come from Guatemala?

These structures included dozens of ball courts and a complex water management system of canals and reservoirs for playing Mesoamerican sports.

The team also explored the remains of the 70-metre-high pyramid of Danta, located in the Mayan metropolis of El Mirador, which served as a major public attraction and the epicenter for several gateways.

Depending on the natural configurations of the bedrock beneath the structure, the entire structure could employ 6,000,000 to 10,000,000 person-day workers, exceeding the capacity of administrations with lower hierarchical political and economic status. The structure thus points to a high level of organization as the sociopolitical and economic patron of such tremendous growth.

The dazzling new discovery sheds light on the people who have lived for over 1,000 years in the bustling cities of this forested basin. Hansen and his team hope that future research will continue to uncover the secrets of this ancient civilization and perhaps discover new settlements that have remained hidden for centuries.

“The skeleton of ancient political and economic structure as a kingdom-state in the Middle and Late Preclassic periods had an attractive presence in the Mirador-Calakmul Karst Basin,” the researchers wrote. He concludes his article by saying.

Article: Richard D. Hansen et al. (2022). LiDAR analyses in the contiguous Mirador-Calakmul Karst Basin, Guatemala: an introduction to new perspectives on regional early Maya socioeconomic and political organization, Ancient Mesoamerica.

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