Thousands Of Ancient Mayan Structures Discovered In Guatemalan Forest

The revelations could drastically change our view of the civilization.

Scientists examine Mayan ruins in Gautemala
Bill Ingalls / NASA via Getty Images

The revelations could drastically change our view of the civilization.

Using new technology to map the Guatemalan jungle revealed tens of thousands of previously unknown Mayan structures, giving researches more insights into the ancient civilization reports Newsweek.

The research was led by the Foundation for Maya Cultural and Natural Heritage (PACUNAM in Spanish) and involved the use of LiDAR technology to look at over 770 square miles of the forest. With finding so many structures, researches will gain a richer understanding of the ancient civilization which dominated much of Latin America for well over 2,000 years.

LiDAR is a technology which uses aircraft with special devices to fire laser light to the ground at a very fast speed. That allows for a full 3D rendered map of the area revealing not just the topography of the landscape but also any man-made structures in the area.

Prior to having access to such a technology, finding any of these structures had been difficult for researchers and others interested in the Mayan culture. So much of the structures in Mayan society that have been discovered surrounded by dense forest, this has allowed all of these structures to remain hidden from society and is part of why the culture proved successful for so long compared to others in the region.

The study took many years to complete and still included fieldwork on the ground, as published in the journal Science this week. Researchers are expecting that this study will transform our understanding of Mayan demographics, agriculture, and economics.

Structures numbering 61,480 were discovered in the research, revealing an impressively sophisticated infrastructure. There was a mix of large cities and smaller rural areas connected by roads with municipal buildings in many settlements.

Looking at the data, scientists determined that approximately 11 million people lived in the area from 650-800 C.E., confirming earlier estimates. That is not much lower than Guatemala’s current population, which stands at 16.58 million, and was possible due to this network of interconnected towns.

The roads were just part of the infrastructure uncovered with fortifications along the roads, revealing the depth of Mayan warfare. The identification of these different cities and towns will put to bed a common debate in the field as to how Mayan society was organized.

What the research shows is that rather than a disconnected set of warring city-states, which was a popular view in some circles, the Mayan civilization was rather a deeply interconnected city that relied on labor both inside and outside the individual cities. That revelation means that Mayan society was probably much more like our current society that people have previously thought.

More conclusions from the research will be coming in the coming weeks and months which will greatly increase modern understanding of Maya.