The remains of a vast Mayan “kingdom” were found in Northern Guatemala, raising questions over the daily lives and demise of its inhabitants 2,000 years ago, according to a report published in the journal Ancient Mesoamerica earlier this month.
The ancient metropolis contained more than 1,000 settlements densely packed together over 650 square miles — challenging the theory that most Mesoamerican settlements were sparsely populated. The site was discovered by an international team of researchers from the United States and France, who published their findings in the journal.
The site was located using LiDAR (Light Detection and Ranging), a sensing method that uses laser light to measure distances. The technology is well suited to surveying archaeological sites in Central and South America, as the laser is capable of penetrating thick rainforest canopies.
Researchers flew over an area known as the Mirador-Calakmul Karst Basin (MCKB) and directed light pulses towards the ground, generating a three-dimensional map of the Earth’s surface. The survey of the Mayan site revealed more than 100 miles of causeways, or raised beds used as roads, “forming a web of implied social, political, and economic interactions,” the authors of the paper wrote.
The sprawling transportation network would have allowed easy communication and trade between groups, suggesting “a social and economic cohesion that exceed those of lesser polities during these periods.” A series of canals and reservoirs were dug to move and store water in anticipation of dry periods, respectively.
There was also evidence that the Mayans broke periods of hard work with entertainment: some settlements had ball courts suitable for playing a variety of Mesoamerican sports. Large platforms and pyramids were discovered elsewhere, suggesting the civilization had centralized hubs for labor and politics.
“The expansion and control of labor for such massive, contemporaneous monumental architectural groups suggests a unified power that could draw on labor and resources from throughout the entirety of the [Mirador-Calakmul Karst Basin],” the researchers concluded.