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Detection Thresholds of Archaeological Features in Airborne Lidar Data from Central Yucatán

  • Aline Magnoni (a1), Travis W. Stanton (a2), Nicolas Barth (a2), Juan Carlos Fernandez-Diaz (a3), José Francisco Osorio León (a4), Francisco Pérez Ruíz (a4) and Jessica A. Wheeler (a5)...

Abstract

In this article we evaluate ∼48km2 of airborne lidar data collected at a target density of 15 laser shots/m in central Yucatán, Mexico. This area covers parts of the sites of Chichén Itzá and Yaxuná, a kilometer-wide transect between these two sites, and a transect along the first few kilometers of Sacbé 1 from Yaxuná to Cobá. The results of our ground validation and mapping demonstrate that not all sizable archaeological features can be detected in the lidar images due to: (1) the slightly rolling topography interspersed with 1-6 m-high bedrock hummocks, which morphologically mimic house mounds, further complicated by the presence of low foundations; (2) the complex forest structure in central Yucatán, which has particularly dense near-ground understory resulting in a high number of mixed-signal ground and low vegetation returns which reduces the fidelity and accuracy of the bare-earth digital elevation models; and (3) the predominance of low archaeological features difficult to discern from the textural noise of the near-ground vegetation. In this article we explore different visualization techniques to increase the identification of cultural features, but we conclude that, in this portion of the Maya region, lidar should be used as a complement to traditional on-the-ground survey techniques.

En este trabajo evaluamos datos de lidar recolectados en la parte central de Yucatán. Se mapeó un total de ∼48km2 en el mes de mayo 2014. El área mapeada cubre grandes porciones de los sitios de Yaxuná y Chichén Itzá además de un transecto de un kilómetro de ancho entres estos dos sitios y otro transecto a lo largo de los primeros cuatro kilómetros del Sacbé 1 de Yaxuná a Cobá. Los vuelos fueron llevados a cabo por un equipo del Centro Nacional de Mapeo Aéreo por Laser de la Universidad de Houston con una densidad de 15 pulsos de laser por metro cuadrado. Varios de los elementos grandes fueron verificados y confirmados en los sitios de Yaxuná y Chichén Itzá y se recorrió un transecto de 200 m de ancho entre los sitios de Yaxuná y Popolá (una distancia de cinco kilómetros) mapeando todos los elementos culturales. Los resultados de este trabajo demuestran que no todos los elementos de tamaño substancial se pueden identificar en las imágenes del lidar por tres razones principales. Primero, el centro de Yucatán está caracterizado por afloramientos de roca madre muy parecidos a montículos domésticos y a veces sirven como la base de pequeños cimientos. Segundo, la vegetación baja, resultado en gran parte de un sistema agrícola de roza y quema, presenta problemas para distinguir la superficie de la vegetación. Tercero, como muchas de las estructuras son plataformas relativamente bajas, es difícil identificar una gran parte del asentamiento en la región. En este trabajo exploramos varias técnicas de visualización de los datos de lidar, pero concluimos que, aunque esta tecnología cambia la manera en que los arqueólogos buscan y mapean sitios, no es substituto de las técnicas tradicionales de recorrido y mapeo en esta parte de zona maya.

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