Archaeologists have discovered a monumental Mayan complex more than 1 km long in southern Mexico. It is hoped that this spectacular discovery will uncover surprising information about a community that lived there 3,000 years ago.
The structure revealed thanks to laser technology
Modern technology has made it possible to discover the oldest and largest Mayan monument ever seen. Laser mapping is a technique that provides a glimpse of terrain that, for a variety of reasons, is difficult to explore in person. LIDAR, or laser remote sensing, allows detailed maps to be obtained remotely of areas that are, for example, covered by dense forest.
This technology is used in a number of fields, including archaeology, saving scientists from having to travel to remote areas in search of lost places and treasures. In fact, it has enabled scientists to find the oldest and largest Mayan monument ever discovered. Fox News recently reported on the discovery of Aguada Fenix, which was found near the border between Mexico and Guatemala. Scientists from the University of Arizona made the discovery in 2017, but they have just begun to share details of the discovery.
A colossal monument.
The size of the structure is enormous. It is between 10 and 15 metres high and 1.4 kilometres long. It also has nine pavements. Not only is it the oldest and largest known Mayan ceremonial site, but it is so large that it occupies more surface area than the Great Pyramid of Giza in Egypt.
The team consulted the low-resolution LIDAR analysis collected by the Mexican government, and saw what looked like a huge platform. They then looked at the area with high-resolution LIDAR, which not only confirmed the original site, but also revealed the large building. It is interesting to note that the area is not deep in the jungle, in fact people even live there, but the site was so large and flat that it looked like a natural landscape. It was only when they were able to get an aerial view with LIDAR that it became clear that this was an intentional form.
Older than the already known sites
After its initial discovery, archaeologists began to excavate the site. As part of this process, they dated 69 charcoal samples, and the results showed that Aguada Fenix dated from 1,000 to 800 B.C. It is believed that the platform was used as a ritual site, and the team found jade axes and other objects in the centre of the area.
Takeshi Inomata, from the University of Arizona and lead author of the article describing the discovery, said the rituals probably involved the use of pavements, all of which lead to the rectangular square, allowing large numbers of people to gather. It was most likely the community’s function as a gathering place that motivated its construction. Iomata and his team published an article about their findings in the journal Nature.
A different construction method.
While later constructions, such as the famous pyramids, are made of stone, this monument is made of earth and clay. There were also no traces of statues of high-ranking individuals, suggesting that Mayan culture was more communal in the early part of its history, to become a more hierarchical society later in its development.
The Mayas were a Mesoamerican civilization that encompassed several indigenous cultures of Mexico and Central America before the arrival of the Spanish in the 16th century. They never constituted a united empire, but rather a civilization composed of several city-states across Belize, Mexico, El Salvador, Guatemala and Honduras.
This discovery is shaking up what we know.
The different city-states fought or made alliances at different times, but they all had things in common, including a great deal of expertise in medicine and astronomy, and a complex calendar. In the early Mayan period, when this structure was built, civilization was essentially agricultural and grew cassava, corn, squash and beans.
It was around the same time that the Olmec civilization really took off, and the Maya adopted certain cultural and religious traits, as well as their calendar and number system, from the Olmec, which may have stimulated changes in Mayan society.