Researchers Find Ancient Mayan Megalopolis in Guatemalan Jungle

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A new discovery has uncovered an ancient Mayan megalopolis previously buried under thick jungle in northern Guatemala. Using LiDAR technology to digitally remove the tree canopy, scientists uncovered thousands of ruins that belonged to the ancient civilization, proving it was much more advanced than previously thought.

In a recent report by National Geographic, a team of scientists used a technology called LiDAR to scan 800 square miles of jungle. LiDAR, an acronym for light detection and ranging, bounces lasers off physical surfaces and measures their return times in order to create a topographical 3-D survey.

This technology lets scientists remove certain features that may be obstructing their view from above, allowing them to see features that may have been covered by brush or were buried in the jungle. Some have compared this to the recent technology of augmented reality.

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The team found roughly 60,000 houses and palaces, connected by elevated highways and an intricate infrastructure. Carefully planned irrigation and aqueducts were also found, proving that our preconceived notions of ancient Mayan technology had underestimated how advanced they truly were.

According to Marcello Canuto, an archeologist from Tulane University who worked on the project, “This was a civilization that was literally moving mountains.”

Canuto said this will change our perception of how major civilizations once formed. In the past, it was thought that the tropics were a place where ancient civilizations couldn’t flourish, but now he says he thinks they may have been the epicenter from which they spread.

The Mayan civilization was originally believed to be home to around 5 million citizens, covering an area roughly twice the size of medieval England. But this discovery shows that the civilization’s population was likely two or three times larger than previously imagined.

In videos posted by National Geographic, researcher Albert Lin can be seen trekking through the jungle, using an app on a tablet to see LiDAR imaging of ruins right in front of him that he otherwise would have walked past.

The team worked in conjunction with the PACUNAM foundation, a conservational group that works to restore and protect Mayan environmental and cultural heritages in Guatemala.

One of the finds that the team made was of a large pyramid in the center of the famous, ancient Mayan city of Tikal. Their discoveries have already revealed new characteristics about the civilization, such as its extensive defenses and barricades, implying the frequency of large-scale wars.

The team has only mapped about a tenth of what the LiDAR data has uncovered, leading them to believe it may take decades to fully examine all of their new discoveries. It seems we will learn much more about this ancient culture than we previously imagined, changing archeological paradigms of what was once believed to be a more primitive society.



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Olmec Colossal Heads: What Are They?

Many ancient civilizations left behind intrigue even archaeologists still puzzle over today. In South America alone, we see cases of anomalous disappearances and unexplained history such as the Incas’ abandoned citadel, Machu Picchu, and the mysterious Mayans’ disappearance, which continue providing fodder for questions about what really happened to these societies.

When it comes to the Olmec people, one giant factor continues to be debated: their colossal heads.

Not of the people themselves, but the 8-ton sculptures of heads they buried underground. The Olmec heads have become yet another famous and mysterious element of ancient cultures we just haven’t solved yet.

Olmec People and Civilization

The Olmec people lived in Southeastern Mexico between 1,500 and 400 B.C., in the lowlands of what is today Tabasco and Veracruz. They are credited with being the first civilization to develop in Mesoamerica, with the Olmec heartland being one of the six cradles of civilization.

Olmecs were the first inhabitants of the Americas to settle in towns and cities with monumental architecture. Evidence has also been found for Olmec hieroglyphs around 650 B.C., as well as scripts on roller stamps and stone artifacts. The fine Olmec artwork survived in several ways, including figurines, sculptures, and of course, the colossal heads.

While the Olmecs seem to have been well-established tradesmen with routes, the civilization vanished around 300 B.C. , although its influence is obvious in the Mayan and Aztec civilizations that followed.

Olmec Colossal Heads

The Olmec colossal heads are aptly named — of the 17 uncovered in the region, the average weight is around 8 tons, standing three meters tall and four and a half meters circumference. Perhaps more than any other aspect of the Olmec heads, their size is cause for a great deal of analysis and speculation.

The heads were carved from a single basalt boulder retrieved from Cerro Cintepec in the Tuxtla Mountains. After their creation, the heads were then transported 100 kilometers to their final destination where they were buried. Most of the heads are wearing a protective helmet, which was worn by the Olmec during battle and the Mesoamerican ballgame, and it is likely they were originally painted with bright colors.

While the heads have been dated to either the Early Preclassic period (1500–1000 BC) and the Middle Preclassic (1000–400 BC) period, it is difficult to say for sure, given that many were removed from their prior contexts before archaeological excavation.

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