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The Use of LiDAR in Understanding the Ancient Maya Landscape

Caracol and Western Belize

Published online by Cambridge University Press:  16 January 2017

Arlen F. Chase
Affiliation:
Department of Anthropology, University of Central Florida, Orlando, FL 32816 (arlen.chase@ucf.edu)
Diane Z. Chase
Affiliation:
Department of Anthropology, University of Central Florida, Orlando, FL 32816 (diane.chase@ucf.edu)
Jaime J. Awe
Affiliation:
Department of Anthropology, Northern Arizona University, Flagstaff 86011 (jaimeawe@yahoo.com)
John F. Weishampel
Affiliation:
Department of Biology, University of Central Florida, Orlando, FL 32816 (john.weishampel@ucf.edu)
Gyles Iannone
Affiliation:
Department of Anthropology, Trent University, Peterborough, Ontario, Canada K9J 7B8; giannone@trentu.ca
Holley Moyes
Affiliation:
School of Social Science, University of California at Merced, Merced, CA 95343 (hmoyes@ucmerced.edu)
Jason Yaeger
Affiliation:
Department of Anthropology, University of Texas, San Antonio, TX 78249 (jason.yaeger@utsa.edu)
M. Kathryn Brown
Affiliation:
Department of Anthropology, University of Texas, San Antonio, TX 78249 (kathryn.brown@utsa.edu)

Abstract

The use of airborne LiDAR (Light Detection and Ranging) in western Belize, Central America, has revolutionized our understanding of the spatial dynamics of the ancient Maya. This technology has enabled researchers to successfully demonstrate the large-scale human modifications made to the ancient tropical landscape, providing insight on broader regional settlement. Before the advent of this laser-based technology, heavily forested cover prevented full coverage and documentation of Maya sites. Mayanists could not fully recover or document the extent of ancient occupation and could never be sure how representative their mapped and excavated samples were relative to ancient settlement. Employing LiDAR in tropical and subtropical environments, like that of the Maya, effectively provides ground, as well as forest cover information, leading to a much fuller documentation of the complexities involved in the ancient human-nature interface. Airborne LiDAR was first flown over a 200 km2 area of the archaeological site of Caracol, Belize, in April 2009. In April and May 2013 an additional 1,057 km2 were flown with LiDAR, permitting the contextualization of the city of Caracol within its broader region and polity. The use of this technology has transformed our understanding of regional archaeology in the Maya area.

El uso de LiDAR (Light Detection and Ranging) instalado en un avión y sobrevolando el oeste de Belice en América Central, ha revolucionado nuestra comprensión de la din·mica espacial de los antiguos mayas y ha ayudado significativamente a establecer comparaciones con otras civilizaciones tropicales. Esta tecnologÌa ha permitido a investigadores demostrar con éxito las modificaciones humanas a gran escala realizadas en el antiguo paisaje tropical, revelando información sobre los patrones de asentamiento de una amplia región. La densidad y la extensión de la ocupación documentada por el LiDAR tienen implicaciones para los modelos sociales y polÌticos de la época cl·sica maya (550-900 d.C.). Antes de la llegada de esta tecnologÌa basada en l·ser, la densa cubierta forestal impedÌa la cobertura completa y la documentación de los lugares arqueológicos mayas. Mayanistas no podÌan recuperar plenamente o documentar el grado de ocupación antigua y nunca podÌan estar seguros de cu·n representativas eran sus muestras mapeadas y excavadas en relación al antiguo asentamiento. El empleo de LiDAR en ambientes tropicales y subtropicales, como el de los mayas, nos ofrece de manera efectiva información del terreno, tanto como la de la cubierta forestal, lo que lleva a una documentación mucho m·s completa de las complejidades involucradas en la antigua interfaz hombre-naturaleza. El LiDAR aerotransportado sobrevoló por primera vez en abril de 2009 un ·rea de 200 kilómetros cuadrados de la zona arqueológica de Caracol, Belice. Estos datos revitalizaron la arqueologÌa del paisaje del ·rea maya, proporcionando una imagen completa de una antigua ciudad—sus asentamientos, centros administrativos y rituales, caminos y terrazas agrÌcolas. En abril y mayo del 2013 una sección adicional de 1.057 kilómetros cuadrados fueron sobrevolados con LiDAR, asi permitiendo la contextualización de la ciudad de Caracol dentro de su región general fÌsica y polÌtica. Cuando se combina esta información con datos detallados de la excavación arqueológica, LiDAR proporciona un recurso sin precedentes para el an·lisis de las din·micas a largo plazo de la relación hombre-naturaleza en relación al aumento, el mantenimiento, y la caÌda de la antigua sociedad maya.

Type
Research Article
Copyright
Copyright © Society for American Archaeology 2014

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