Lidar is fast becoming one of the most influential tools in archaeology, revealing things in a few hours what might have taken months of machete wielding and manual measurements otherwise.
The latest such discovery is an enormous Mayan structure, more than a kilometer long, 3,000 years old, and seemingly used for astronomical observations.
Lidar detects the distance to objects and surfaces by bouncing lasers off them. Empowered by powerful computational techniques, it can see through the canopy and find the level of the ground beneath, producing a detailed height map of the surface.
In this case the researchers picked a large area of the Tabasco region of Mexico, on the Guatemalan border, known to have been occupied by early Mayan civilization.
What emerged was an enormous ceremonial center now called Aguada Fénix, the largest feature of which is an artificial plateau more than 10 meters tall and 1.4 kilometers in length. It is theorized that these huge plateaus, of which Aguada Fénix is the oldest and largest, were used to track the movement of the sun through the seasons and perform various rites.
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