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Space technology revolutionizes archaeology, understanding of Maya
Date:5/11/2010

A flyover of Belize's thick jungles has revolutionized archaeology worldwide and vividly illustrated the complex urban centers developed by one of the most-studied ancient civilizations -- the Maya.

University of Central Florida researchers led a NASA-funded research project in April 2009 that collected the equivalent of 25 years worth of data in four days.

Aboard a Cessna 337, LiDAR (Light Detection and Ranging) equipment bounced 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 within 200 square kilometers (77 square miles).

UCF anthropology professors Arlen and Diane Chase have directed archaeological excavations at Caracol for more than 25 years. The hard work of machete-wielding research scientists and students has resulted in the mapping of some 23 square kilometers (9 square miles) of ancient settlement.

The NASA technology aboard the Cessna saw beyond the rainforest and detected thousands of new structures, 11 new causeways, tens of thousands of agricultural terraces and many hidden caves results beyond anyone's imagination. The data also confirm the size of the city (spread over 177 square kilometers or 68 square miles) and corroborate the Chases' previous estimates for the size of the population (at least 115,000 people in A.D. 650).

Until now, Maya archeologists have been limited in exploring large sites and understanding the full nature of ancient Maya landscape modifications because most of those features are hidden within heavily forested and hilly terrain and are difficult to record. LiDAR effectively removes these obstacles.

"It's very exciting," said Arlen Chase. "The images not only reveal topography and built features, but also demonstrate the integration of residential groups, monumental architecture, roadways and agricultural terra
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Contact: Chad Binette
cbinette@mail.ucf.edu
407-823-6312
University of Central Florida
Source:Eurekalert  

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