New High-tech Study Reveals Maya Cities, ‘Super Highways’

FARES USA / Handout via Reuters
These undated images show reconstructions of what would have been ancient Maya cities nestled in the area known as the Mirador-Calakmul Karst Basin of northern Guatemala and southern Campeche, Mexico.

GUATEMALA CITY (Reuters) — A new high-tech study has revealed nearly 1,000 ancient Maya settlements, including 417 previously unknown cities linked by what may be the world’s first highway network and hidden for millennia by the dense jungles of northern Guatemala and southern Mexico.

It is the latest discovery of roughly 3,000-year-old Maya centers and related infrastructure, according to a statement on Jan. 16 from a team from Guatemala’s FARES anthropological research foundation overseeing the so-called LiDAR studies.

The findings were first published in December in the journal Ancient Mesoamerica.

All of the newly-identified structures were built centuries before the largest Maya city-states emerged, ushering in major human achievements in math and writing.

LiDAR technology uses planes to shoot pulses of light into dense forest, allowing researchers to peel away vegetation and map ancient structures below.

Among the details revealed in the latest analysis are the ancient world’s first-ever extensive system of stone “highways or super-highways,” according to the researchers.

Around 177 kilometers of spacious roadways have been revealed so far, with some measuring around 40 meters wide and elevated off the ground by as much as five meters.

As part of the Cuenca Karstica Mirador-Calakmul study, which extends from northern Guatemala’s Peten jungle to southern Mexico’s Campeche state, researchers have also identified pyramids, ball game courts plus significant water engineering, including reservoirs, dams and irrigation canals.

“It shows the economic, political and social complexity of what was happening simultaneously across this entire area,” said lead researcher Richard Hansen.

The latest finds date to the so-called middle to late preclassic Maya era, from around 1,000-350 B.C., with many of the settlements believed to be controlled by the metropolis known today as El Mirador. That was more than five centuries before the civilization’s classical peak, when dozens of major urban centers thrived across present-day Mexico and Central America.