A study conducted by European and Guatemalan archaeologists working with Guatemala’s Mayan Heritage and Nature Foundation has suggested that millions people lived in the dense jungle of Guatemala’s Peten region as researchers found, using a high-tech aerial mapping technique, tens of thousands of previously undetected Mayan houses, buildings, defense works and pyramids.
The findings were released on Thursdayby an alliance of U.S., European and Guatemalan archaeologists working with Guatemala’s Mayan Heritage and Nature Foundation.
According to the study, 10 million people may have lived within the Maya Lowlands given the huge food production used to cover the needs of that number of people.
“That is two to three times more (inhabitants) than people were saying there were,” said Marcello A. Canuto, a professor of Anthropology at Tulane University.
Researchers used a mapping technique called LiDAR, which stands for Light Detection And Ranging. It bounces pulsed laser light off the ground, revealing contours hidden by dense foliage.
“Their agriculture is much more intensive and therefore sustainable than we thought, and they were cultivating every inch of the land,” said Francisco Estrada-Belli, a Research Assistant Professor at Tulane University, noting the ancient Mayas partly drained swampy areas that haven’t been considered worth farming since.
“There’s state involvement here, because we see large canals being dug that are re-directing natural water flows,” said Thomas Garrison, Assistant Professor of Anthropology at Ithaca College in New York.
The 810 square miles (2,100 square kilometers) of mapping done vastly expands the area that was intensively occupied by the Maya, whose culture flourished between roughly 1,000 BC and 900 AD. Their descendants still live in the region.
The mapping detected about 60,000 individual structures, including four major Mayan ceremonial centers with plazas and pyramids.