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Archaeologists Unearth Vast Lost Civilization in Guatemala

By: April Carson

A groundbreaking study unveiled the remnants of a vast ancient Mayan city that flourished over two millennia ago in northern Guatemala. This lost urban web included nearly 1,000 settlements across 650 square miles and was connected by an immense network of causeways which were mapped out using airborne laser instruments known as LiDAR.

The complex network stretches across the Mirador, Peten and Uaxactun basins and is believed to have been inhabited by millions of people in its heyday. This inference comes from the sheer scale of the urban grid which contained pyramids, palaces, plazas and dozens of other structures.

Astonishing findings of a LiDAR survey were recently released, illustrating an immense density of Maya sites in Guatemala’s Mirador-Calakmul Karst Basin (MCKB). This discoveries questions earlier beliefs that the MCKB's "Preclassical" period spanning 1,000 BC to 150 AD was sparsely populated by human occupation. The study was reported this month in Cambridge Core journal and has inspired much excitement throughout the archaeological community.

The Maya civilization flourished in Guatemala between 250 and 900 AD. Historians believed that the region was sparsely populated before this time, yet the LiDAR survey revealed a much more densely populated area than anyone anticipated. The findings suggest that the MCKB supported an enormous number of people at least one thousand years earlier than initially predicted.

Richard Hansen, an archaeologist at Idaho State University and director of the Mirador Basin Project, led a team of scientists in presenting "an introduction to one of the most extensive contiguous regional LiDAR studies ever published for the Maya Lowlands," which encompass parts of Mexico, Guatemala, and Belize. The survey captured more than 8,000 structures and 60,000 house mounds spread across the landscape.

The team also found evidence of large-scale, complex urbanism that likely included more than 6 million people between 1000 BC and 1500 AD. This is a remarkable number for the time period, as cities in Europe during this same time frame only held a maximum of 500,000 inhabitants. The findings indicate that the Maya civilization was much larger than previously thought and had an infrastructure to support such a population.

Astonishingly, the LiDAR survey of Maya sites in the MCKB uncovered an abundant density and deployment that were interconnected by a vast causeway network spanning 110 miles. These extensive labor investments demonstrate organizational capacities far surpassing those of other polities; as such, they provide insight into pre-classic period governance strategies.

LiDAR is a cutting-edge remote sensing technology that utilizes lasers to create detailed maps based on how long it takes for the pulses to return back to its receiver. This revolutionary method has been greatly beneficial in archaeology, and other fields of study - including Maya research - due to its unrivaled ability of uncovering lost human activity underneath dense vegetation or places impossible for traditional ground fieldwork.

The research team posited that the LiDAR survey could provide new information regarding ancient Maya cities, and it did not disappoint. The survey enabled them to uncover 83 square miles (215 sq km) of previously unknown Maya settlements. These findings have been critical in providing insight into the ancient civilization's structure and governance strategies.

After years of flying airborne LiDAR devices over the MCKB at an altitude around 2,000 feet, Hansen and his team were elated to discover dense concentrations of previously unknown settlements. These included massive platform and pyramid constructions that point towards a centralized political structure, as described in their report.

The ancient Maya civilization left behind a diverse collection of constructions, from dozens of ballcourts for their traditional sports to an intricate network of canals and reservoirs. In El Mirador, the team examined the ruins of Danta Pyramid - standing at 230 feet tall - a major attraction in its day that was connected by causeways to other cities throughout the region.

The archaeologists also discovered evidence of El Mirador’s extensive agricultural practices. Their findings suggest that the Maya developed and employed advanced methods of soil management and irrigation to sustain their population.

According to the study conducted by Hansen and his colleagues, due to the nature of bedrock beneath it, building this structure could have taken up between 6 million - 10 million person-days. This feat surpasses what would be expected from a lower hierarchical political or economic status; thus indicating that whoever sponsored its construction was extremely organized in terms of their sociopolitical and economic influence.

The team has also unearthed evidence of large-scale terrace complexes and raised fields which are known to have been used for agriculture, suggesting that the Maya had an extremely sophisticated understanding of agricultural practices.

Illuminating a captivating new discovery, Hansen and his team are eager to unlock the secrets of this long-lost civilization that had populated bustling cities within the forested basin for over a thousand years. With hopes of uncovering more hidden settlements in future research, they anticipate further revelations from this ancient part of history. As Hansen put it, the find “not only gives us a glimpse of this lost civilization but also opens up many questions about its society, economy and political structure.”

The researchers reached the exciting conclusion that an ancient political and economic structure in a kingdom-state form had left behind its tantalizing remains within the Mirador-Calakmul Karst Basin during both Middle and Late Preclassic periods. The complex network of raised roads and causeways, expansive terraces and reservoirs discovered laid down by the ancient civilization suggest that its people had achieved a sophisticated level of cooperation needed to sustain this kind of large-scale communal infrastructure.

Billy Carson & Doctah B Sirius January 7th 2023 Event Warm-up.


April Carson is the daughter of Billy Carson. She received her bachelor's degree in Social Sciences from Jacksonville University, where she was also on the Women's Basketball team. She now has a successful clothing company that specializes in organic baby clothes and other items. Take a look at their most popular fall fashions on

To read more of April's blogs, check out her website! She publishes new blogs on a daily basis, including the most helpful mommy advice and baby care tips! Follow on IG @bossbabymav



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