The complexity of ancient Mayan cities now demonstrated

The detection, thanks to Lidar technology, of thousands of Mayan ruins in northern Guatemala was revealed last January. Their extensive analysis was published on September 28, 2018 in the journal Science by an international collaboration in which two French researchers, a CNRS archaeologist and a geographer from the University Paris 8 Vincennes Saint-Denis participated.

Thanks to the Lidar, 135 km2, or 70 times the study area studied so far, could be explored. First surprise: the density of human occupation in this region, much higher than we imagined until now (more than 62 000 structures identified including 12 000 for the Naachtun area). And among the other discoveries are the inter-connectivity, unsuspected on this scale, of Mayan cities between them via the construction of long roads that cross areas of hills and wetlands, the diversity of agrarian and hydraulic developments or the use of elaborate defensive systems. With the density of the occupation, it is the landscaping that surprise the most since, to take only the example of Naachtun, no less than 18 000 agricultural terraces, 5 400 drainage and irrigation channels in connection with agricultural micro-plots and 70 large reservoirs were identified. These results reveal an intensive and large-scale exploitation of environmental resources as well as risk management by the Mayan populations of the so-called classical period (150 to 950 AD).


Image of the monumental epicenter of Naachtun © Projet Naachtun/A. Dorison

Sources:

CNRS – INSHS

Canuto M. A., Estrada-Belli F., Garrison T. G., Houston S. D., Acuña M. J., Ková? M., Marken D., Nondédéo P., Auld-Thomas L., Castanet C., Chatelain D., Chiriboga C. R., Drápela T., Lieskovský T., Tokovinine A., Velasquez A., . Fernández-Díaz J. C. and Shrestha R. 2018, Ancient Lowland Maya Complexity as Revealed by Airborne Laser Scanning of Northern Guatemala, in Science.

de Naachtun © Projet Naachtun/A. Dorison


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