- Causeways connect multiple settlements dated from roughly 1000 BC to 150 AD.
- Known as the Mirador-Calakmul Karst Basin, more than 1,000 ancient Maya settlements and cities make up the area.
- In a new study published in the journal Ancient Mesoamerica, researchers from Texas-based universities used LiDAR, or laser-based imaging, to open up more of Maya settlement history than ever known before.
The light detection and ranging technology pierced through the heavily forested Mirador-Calakmul Karst Basin in northern Guatemala to show that more than 1,000 settlements covered about 650 square miles, all connected with 110 miles of causeways that the Maya people used to travel their settlements, cities, and cultural centers. The researchers even located canals and reservoirs, highlighting the expanse of the organization from the Maya culture in the middle and late preclassic period from about 1000 BC to 150 AD.
It all amounted to a first look at “an area that was integrated politically and economically, and never seen before in other places in the Western Hemisphere,” study co-author Carlos Morales-Aguilar, of the Department of Geography and the Environment at the University of Texas at Austin, tells Live Science. “We can now see the entire landscape of the Maya region.”
The concentration of preclassic Maya sites connected by causeways forms a “web of implied social, political, and economic interactions,” according to the study:
“Monumental architecture, consistent architectural formats, specific site boundaries, water management/collection facilities, and 177 kilometers (110 miles) of elevated preclassic causeways suggest labor investments that defy organizational capabilities of lesser polities and potentially portray the strategies of governance in the preclassic period.”
The study authors tell Live Science that for the Mayans, the area provided a mix of ideal living conditions for structures while still offering agricultural lowlands. Researchers believe that uncovering such a vast array of the Maya civilization shows off just how involved and interconnected the culture was.
“Settlement distributions, architectural continuities, chronological contemporaneity, and volumetric considerations of sites provide evidence for early centralized administrative and socio-economic strategies within a defined geographical region,” the study says.