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Progression and Issues in the Mesoamerican Geospatial Revolution

An Introduction

Published online by Cambridge University Press:  16 January 2017

Arlen F. Chase
Department of Anthropology, University of Nevada, Las Vegas, Box 455003, 4505 S. Maryland Parkway, Las Vegas, NV 89154-5003
Kathryn Reese-Taylor
Department of Anthropology and Archaeology, University of Calgary, 2500 University Dr. N.W., Calgary, AB, T2N 1N4, Canada
Juan C. Fernandez-Diaz
National Center for Airborne Laser Mapping, University of Houston, 5000 Gulf Freeway, Houston, TX 77204-5059
Diane Z. Chase
Office of the Executive Vice President and Provost, University of Nevada, Las Vegas, Box 451002 (FDH 752), 4505 S. Maryland Parkway, Las Vegas, NV 89154-1002


The use of airborne mapping lidar (Light Detection and Ranging), a.k.a airborne laser scanning (ALS), has had a major impact on archaeological research being carried out in Mesoamerica. Since being introduced in 2009, mapping lidar has revolutionized the spatial parameters of Mesoamerican, and especially Maya, archaeology by permitting the recovery of a complete landscape and settlement pattern for further analysis. However, like any new technology, there are learning curves to be overcome, resulting in a feedback relationship between the on-the-ground archaeologists, the virtually grounded computer analysts, and the instrument designers. Archaeologists have been able to identify problems and issues with data production and visualization for the determination of archaeological remains caused by vegetation, special terrain conditions, and modern disturbance. The identification of these concerns helps the technician to develop new techniques, especially when working in conjunction with the field researcher. As seen through the papers in this volume, this symbiotic relationship promises to yield both new breakthroughs in landscape and settlement analysis for Mesoamerican archaeology and enhanced analytic and visualization techniques for lidar with the potential for applicability in other contexts. In many regards, the development of lidar has parallels to the development of radiocarbon dating as a revolutionary technology.

El uso de lidar de mapeo aéreo-trasportado ha tenido un impacto muy significativo en la investigación arqueológica que se lleva a cabo en Mesoamérica. Desde su introducción a la practica en el 2009, el lidar de mapeo ha revolucionado los parámetros espaciales de la arqueología Mesoamericana, en especial la de los Mayas, permitiendo capturar completamente la topografía y los patrones de asentamiento para análisis posteriores. Sin embargo, como con cualquier otra tecnología, hay curvas de aprendizaje que tiene que superarse, lo que resulta en una relación de retroalimentación entre los arqueólogos en el campo y los analistas y técnicos informáticos en el campo virtual, así como también con los diseñadores de instrumentos. Los arqueólogos han sido capaces de identificar problemas en la producción y visualización de los datos para la identificación de remanentes arqueológicos, problemas que son causados por la vegetación, condiciones particulares del terreno y perturbaciones modernas. La identificación de estos aspectos ayudan a los técnicos a desarrollar nuevas técnicas, en especial cuando se trabaja en conjunción con el investigador de campo. Como se verá en los artículos publicados en este volumen, esta relación simbiótica promete producir nuevos desarrollos en el análisis de los asentamientos y la topografía aplicado a la arqueología mesoamericana así como también desarrollos de técnicas mejoradas para el análisis y la visualización de datos de lidar con potencial para ser aplicados en otros contextos. En múltiples maneras, la evolución del lidar tiene muchos paralelos con la evolución del fechado por radiocarbono como una tecnología revolucionaria.

Research Article
Copyright © Society for American Archaeology 2016

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