PHOTOS: Researchers find lost Maya city deep in Mexican jungle

HOUSTON – A hidden Maya city was recently unearthed by experts at the National Center for Airborne Laser Mapping at University of Houston, according to a release.

Researchers found the lost Maya city deep in the jungles of Campeche, on the Yucatan Peninsula, in Mexico.

Among the findings were several 50-foot-tall structures, which resembled pyramids, and pottery that dates the city to the “Late Classic period,” between the years 600 and 800, the release read.

The NCALM researchers who found the city, now dubbed Ocomtún or stone column in Maya, have also found ruins in 2012 in an area of Eastern Honduras where centuries-old legends talk of a “lost white city”; the 2016 mapping of more than 80,000 Maya structures including many previously unknown Maya settlements; and agricultural and defensive structures in the Guatemalan Peten jungle, according to the release.

Those researchers use their plane to fly high above sites of interest with airborne light detection and ranging (lidar) equipment, they scan the vast array of landforms.

Lidar allows unprecedented data collection in areas that are extremely difficult to enter on foot, like deep within jungles and rainforests.

In the ongoing quest to unearth the world’s hidden mysteries, University of Houston researchers and archaeology partners have discovered a lost Maya city deep in the jungles of Campeche, on the Yucatan Peninsula, in Mexico (University of Houston)

“You can compare us to ultrasound technicians. We are the first to see the baby, but the doctor will tell you all about it and confirm the findings,” said Juan Carlos Fernandez-Diaz, co-principal investigator of NCALM, housed in the Cullen College of Engineering, where he is also a research assistant professor of civil and environmental engineering.

Using lidar technology, Fernandez-Diaz said he and his team shoots hundreds of thousands of laser bursts per second at the ground and measures how quickly those pulses hit the ground and bounce back to their source. Those calculations reveal the exact distance between the plane and the ground. By repeating that process several billion times, the explorers create a three-dimensional map, complete with topographical markings noting rising structures and other hidden gems.

Then the NCALM staff hands over the findings to the archeologists for interpretation. In this project, the lead archeologist was Ivan Ṡprajc of the Slovenian Academy of Sciences and Arts under the auspices of Mexico’s National Institute for Anthropology and History (INAH), the release reads.

Ṡprajc confirmed the finding of three plazas complete with large buildings and a ball game field. The team was most surprised that the terrain was elevated and surrounded by wetlands. That’s where they found the pyramid-shaped buildings.

“The site served as an important center at the regional level,” Ṡprajc said in a statement released by INAH.

Juan Fernandez-Diaz looking at maps on his computer. NCALM with Lidar technology finds remains of ancient mayan city. July 10, 2023. (University of Houston)

The Maya civilization is located in what is now known as southern Mexico, Guatemala, Belize, Honduras and El Salvador.

To deliver the findings, the UH team took only three flights over the region, four hours each.

“For Mexico and Central America, we are the premier research center that has been able to do this quickly and affordably. We have over 10 years of these kinds of these discoveries,” Fernandez-Diaz said.

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