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The Discovery of Mayan "Superhighways"
Early Mayan civilization had "superhighways" which connected city-states and communities to one another
The entire breadth of the early Mayan life was once impossible to understand due to the dense flora of the northern Guatemalan rain forests covering its thousands years old relics. But, the use of laser technology has allowed researchers to find a previously undiscovered Maya site that is 1,683 square kilometers (650 square miles) in size and provides startlingly fresh new information about ancient Mesoamericans and their society.
The huge site was located in the Mirador-Calakmul Karst Basin in northern Guatemala. The researchers used LiDAR technology, a laser mapping device that enables the discovery of structures beneath dense tree canopies, to locate the location. The generated map displayed a region made up of 417 interconnected Mayan cities, towns, and villages that accounted for 964 settlements.
The villages were connected by a network of raised stone trails, or causeways, spanning 110 miles (177 kilometers). According to a research that was published in the journal Ancient Mesoamerica, they show that the early civilization was the home to a culture that was even more complex than was previously believed.
This provides proof that Mayan society had the first freeways in the Americas. The causeways, which rise above the Maya Lowlands' seasonal marshes and thick forest flora, linked communities. The causeways are wonderful because they connect all these cities like a spiderweb, and again constitutes one of the Western Hemisphere's first and oldest state societies. The underlying social, political, and economic relationships as well as governing tactics are amazing given how challenging they would have been to construct.
The causeways were built using layers of limestone cement, mixed with quarry stone and mud. According to the authors, the Mayans probably built the raised paths using a method similar to the one they used to build their pyramids, by first building 10- to 15-foot (3- to 4.5-meter) stone boxes, filling them, stacking them, then leveling them off. Over half of an American football field's length, or 131 feet (40 meters), broad, was the maximum width of some of these causeways. Impressive!
The Maya word for a causeway is "Sacebe," which means "white road" in English. A substantial layer of white plaster covered the raised roads, which, according to the authors, would have improved visibility at night because the plaster reflected moonlight. There were no pack animals in the area at the time of the Mayans. And we’re not thinking that they had wheeled vehicles on these causeways like Roman highways, like chariots or something, but they were obviously constructed for people to interact, communicate and possibly travel between sites.
The causeways' construction required extensive labor, coordination, and participation from many people. These are difficult work initiatives that would have required coordination and some type of hierarchy.
Since 2015, when two extensive surveys of the southern half of the Mirador-Calakmul Karst Basin were conducted, LiDAR has been utilized to find the ruins of early Mayan civilizations. Light waves are pulsed down from an overhead aircraft and bounce off the ground before returning to the sensor. The LiDAR sensor counts the time it takes for each pulse to return and builds a three-dimensional image of the area below, much like sonar, which uses sound to find structures. These discoveries can be made thanks to technology without endangering the rain forest. In order to continue their investigation into the early Mayan civilization, the researchers hope to collect more samples and perhaps find more towns using LiDAR technology.
Hansen, R., Morales-Aguilar, C., Thompson, J., Ensley, R., Hernández, E., Schreiner, T., . . . Martínez, G. (2022). LiDAR analyses in the contiguous Mirador-Calakmul Karst Basin, Guatemala: An introduction to new perspectives on regional early Maya socioeconomic and political organization. Ancient Mesoamerica, 1-40. doi:10.1017/S0956536122000244