Ancient Mayan city home to millions of people found in dense jungle

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Ancient Mayan city home to millions of people found in dense jungle
This digital 3D image shows the Mayan archaeological site at Tikal in Guatemala created using LiDAR aerial mapping technology (Picture: Canuto & Auld-Thomas/PACUNAM via AP)

Scientists have discovered an ancient Mayan city hidden in dense Guatemalan jungle, suggesting millions more people lived there than previously thought.

A high-tech aerial mapping technique found tens of thousands of previously undetected houses, buildings, defence works and pyramids in the country’s Peten region.

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The discoveries included industrial-sized agricultural fields and irrigation canals with studies estimating that roughly 10 million people may have lived within the Maya Lowlands.

‘That is two to three times more (inhabitants) than people were saying there were,’ said Marcello A. Canuto, a professor of anthropology at Tulane University.

Researchers used a mapping technique called LiDAR, which bounces pulsed laser light off the ground, revealing contours hidden by dense foliage.

Scientists discover ancient Mayan city hidden under Guatemalan jungle picture: Metro.co.uk
The city was found in the Peten region of Guatemala (Picture: Metro.co.uk)

Francisco Estrada-Belli, research assistant professor at Tulane University, said: ‘Their agriculture is much more intensive and therefore sustainable than we thought, and they were cultivating every inch of the land.’

Thomas Garrison, assistant professor of anthropology at Ithaca College in New York added: ‘There’s state involvement here, because we see large canals being dug that are re-directing natural water flows.’

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Researchers mapped 810 square miles and found four major Mayan ceremonial centres with plazas and pyramids.

Garrison said: ‘If I had not had the LiDAR and known that that’s what it was, I would have walked right over it, because of how dense the jungle is.’

The jungle grew over abandoned Maya fields and structures, hiding and preserving them.

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‘In this jungle, which has hindered us in our discovery efforts for so long, has actually worked as this great preservative tool of the impact the culture had across the landscape,’ Garrison added.

LiDAR revealed a previously undetected structure between the two sites that Garrison says ‘can’t be called anything other than a Maya fortress.’

‘It’s this hill-top citadel that has these ditch and rampart systems. When I went there, one of these things in nine meters tall.

Canuto said he and the scientist ‘felt a little sheepish’ after seeing the images, ‘because these were things that we had been walking over all the time.’

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