A new high-tech study has revealed nearly 1,000 ancient Maya settlements, including 417 previously unknown sites, linked by what may be the world’s first network of highways and hidden for millennia in the dense jungles of northern Guatemala and southern Mexico.
It’s the latest discovery of some 3,000-year-old Mayan centers and associated infrastructure, according to a statement Monday by a team at Guatemala’s anthropological research foundation FARES, which oversees the so-called LiDAR studies.
The findings were first published last month in the journal Ancient Mesoamerica.
All of the newly identified structures were built centuries before the emergence of the greatest Maya city-states and led to great human achievements in mathematics and writing.
LiDAR technology uses aircraft to shoot pulses of light into dense forests, allowing researchers to peel away vegetation and map ancient structures beneath.
Among the details revealed in the latest analysis is the ancients’ first-ever extensive system of stone “highways, or super-highways,” according to the researchers.
About 177 km (110 miles) of spacious roads have been uncovered to date, some about 40 meters (130 ft) wide and up to 5 meters (16 ft) above ground.
As part of the Cuenca Karstica Mirador-Calakmul study, which stretches from the Peten Jungle in northern Guatemala to Campeche State in southern Mexico, researchers have also identified pyramids, ball courts, and significant water engineering, including reservoirs, dams, and irrigation canals.
“It shows the economic, political and social complexity of what was happening simultaneously across this entire area,” said lead researcher Richard Hansen.
The latest finds date from the so-called middle to late Preclassic Maya era, from around 1,000 to 350 BC. BC, with many of the settlements believed to have been controlled by the metropolis now known as El Mirador. This was more than five centuries before civilization’s classic peak, when dozens of major urban centers in modern-day Mexico and Central America flourished.
© Thomson Reuters 2023.