Scholars studying the Maya Biosphere Reserve in Guatemala used laser imaging to map an area of more than 800 square miles, revealing a far more complex and interconnected society than previously known. The imaging technology, known as LiDAR (Light Detection And Ranging), digitally removed the jungle canopy to reveal hundreds of unseen structures, an extensive network of highways connecting urban areas and quarries, and advanced irrigation and terracing systems.
“We’ve had this western conceit that complex civilizations can’t flourish in the tropics, that the tropics are where civilizations go to die,” Tulane University archaeologist Marcello Canuto told National Geographic
. “[W]e now have to consider that complex societies may have formed in the tropics and made their way outward from there.”