Space Technology Used to Study the Maya

ORLANDO, Fla., May 18 (UPI) — University of Central Florida scientists say they have used laser technology to collect 25 years worth of archaeological data on the Maya in four days.

The researchers said a flyover of Belize’s thick jungles using LiDAR (Light Detection and Ranging) equipment has revolutionized archaeology, illustrating the complex urban centers developed by one of the most-studied ancient civilizations — the Maya.


Aboard a Cessna 337, the scientists used LiDAR to bounce laser beams to sensors on the ground, penetrating the thick tree canopy and producing images of the ancient settlement and environmental modifications made by the inhabitants of the Maya city of Caracol.

The researchers said the technology detected thousands of new structures, 11 new causeways, tens of thousands of agricultural terraces and many hidden caves.

“It’s very exciting,” said UCF anthropology Professor Arlen Chase. “The images not only reveal topography and built features, but also demonstrate the integration of residential groups, monumental architecture, roadways and agricultural terraces, vividly illustrating a complete communication, transportation and subsistence system.”

UCF Biology Professor John Weishampel, who designed the unique LiDAR approach, said it was the first time the specific technology fully recorded an archaeological ruin under a tropical rainforest.

“Further applications of airborne LiDAR undoubtedly will … effectively render obsolete traditional methods of surveying,” Chase said.

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