Hidden Maya cities uncovered

Thomas Garrison jots field notes in the jungles of Guatemala

Researchers from Guatemala's PACUNAM foundation said on Thursday they had mapped the outlines of dozens of newly discovered Maya cities previously hidden deep in the jungle.

Laser technology was used to survey digitally beneath the forest canopy, revealing houses, palaces, elevated highways, and defensive fortifications. Before this discovery archaeologists and historians had speculated the Mayan civilization a decentralized society but this new discovery points to an advanced network of centralized architecture and governance. British archaeologist Thomas Garrison said that several years ago he came within 150 feet of one of the major monument's discovered through this new technology.

The results suggest that there are streets linking urban quarry centers, complex irrigation systems and natural terraces where they grow massively, according to the archeologists.

"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 NY.

Researchers used a mapping technique called LiDAR, which stands for Light Detection And Ranging. LIDAR (light and radar) is a technology that's being put to use in a variety of ways in the modern world, including aiding automated robots and cars in navigating their surroundings. The technology uses short laser pulses to measure the distance between the airplane-mounted instrument - which combines a laser, scanner and unique Global Positioning System receiver - and Earth's surface.

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Garrison's research is responsible for the largest-ever LiDAR survey for an archaeological project.

The scientists found more than 810 square miles (2,100 sq km) in northern Peten.

Professor Houston said that the discoveries were "breathtaking" and that the imagery brought him to tears. Researchers have long known that Mayan settlements were present in the area, but the massive scale of the cities that were once teeming with activity was hugely miscalculated.

It had previously been thought to be a small mountain in the heart of the ancient Maya city of Tikal, a major tourist destination in northeastern Guatemala. The new discovery is near already-known Maya cities.

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