The rainforest of Central America is one of the most beautiful and ecologically rich locations on the planet, but it wasn’t until recently that we also realized how much human history it held. Mayan civilizations are found all over Central America, including Belize and Guatemala, where the Maya Biosphere Reserve is located. Close to the Mayan temple city Tikal, beneath almost 1000 years of growth, an entire Mayan metropolis was found and 3D mapped using lasers. Among the findings were 60,000 homes, palaces, quarries, and highways built with the environment in mind, rising over wetlands, and connected to each other with roads.
Archeologists were expecting to find villages and homes of the Mayan people, but they were absolutely astounded by the density and intricacy of the 800 square miles they mapped using a technology called Light Detection and Ranging (LiDAR), which uses lasers shot from planes flying over the area. After generating the data with the lasers, the scientists had to hike throughout the area to confirm the structures. These findings are fascinating since they show that the Mayan civilization, once considered to be primitive, had been able to survive off the land in relatively high numbers while also building a complex infrastructure.
Today, the mayan people make up about 8% of the population in Belize. They continue to be an agriculturally driven people, cultivating corn and cacao. The Mayan people created some of our favorite foods such as chocolate and tamales, and in some locations chocolate is still made the ancient way starting with raw cacao that is slowly dried, crushed and cooked. Other foods such as corn tortillas and guacamole are also attributed to the mayan people, and are still a large part of modern culture in Belize.
The information and insight into the ancient Mayan culture provided by the LiDAR technology gives us a small glimpse into the vastness and complexity of their civilization. With such a huge population and community, it is no wonder that their influence is still with us today.
Each year, large groups of tourists flock to the currently excavated Mayan temples to see the impressive architecture created by the Mayan people. Temples, ball courts, and other structures have been found and excavated for us to see with the naked eye, and to experience the wonders of the Mayans. There is no doubt that these new discoveries will unveil even more wonders of this ancient civilization.
Want to learn more about the Mayans? Check out these resources:
- Cacao: The Mayan Food of the Gods (Ricochet Science)
- All images: Inspire EdVentures LLC