The Maya civilization has widely been regarded as one of the most accomplished ancient civilizations. A recent archaeological discovery is shedding new light on everything we thought we know about this amazing civilization.
Lidar Leads The Way
Scientists were able to complete the first ever in-depth exploration of the Maya ruins in Guatemala. Before this point, scientist only knew that a large amount of Mayan ruins lied under the canopy of the rainforest. Now, we know exactly what those ruins look like.
Lidar technology is like an x-ray for the earth. Using laser beams sent from airplanes, the light rays are able to pass over trees and dirt, but they stop at brick and clay structures. When the light stops, it bounces back to the plane and creates a 3D image of the ruins.
What Did They Find?
The Mayan city underneath the Guatemalan rainforest is just as complex and amazing as a modern one. There are 60,000 miles of roadways connecting huge fields to each other. There was a modern metropolis’ worth of housing, and there were even what seemed to be palaces and temples.
The Maya civilization wasn’t a mere group of smaller groups. The Mayas were able to grow enough food in ancient times to sustain millions of people living in one city together. This means that their agricultural methods were far more advanced than modern historians every imagined. That many people could not have survived on a subsistence farming or hunter-gatherer lifestyle. The agricultural system in the Mayan world had to be an extremely complex one.
Where Were They Going?
The lidar excavation revealed that the Mayan had an extensive network of roads within this ancient megacity. All of those well-made roads suggest something amazing.
Someone had to commission those roads to be built. It was likely a governmental project. It also suggests that there was a large commerce system within the Maya civilization. People didn’t simply stay where they lived. There was a lot of travel, just as there is travel in modern cities today. It’s quite possible that ancient Mayas hired other people to work in their fields. Who knows? Mayans could have felt the Monday blues like us!
Did We Get It All Wrong?
One of the most interesting discoveries of this extensive lidar forest exploration is that the Maya civilization had military strongholds. The strategic positioning of military fortresses suggests that the Maya’s wanted to be prepared from getting attacked by some group that lived west of the Maya civilization.
For much of modern history, Native American civilizations have been viewed as well structured, yet isolated groups. The roads, complex agricultural systems, and military defenses recently discovered in Guatemala turns that theory on its head. While more research will be necessary to prove anything, it seems more and more possible that the Maya civilization could have had way more interaction with other Native American civilizations than was ever known to modern man.