The current research is sponsored by the PACUNAM LiDAR Initiative, which used revolutionary technology in 2018 to digitally remove the tree canopy from aerial images to reveal the vast ruins of a complex pre-Columbian civilisation more interconnected than Maya scholars had previously supposed.
What looked like just another hill dotting the swelling landscape of the ancient Maya city-state of Tikal in what is now northern Guatemala has been revealed to be hiding an ancient monument, according to Edwin Román Ramírez, an archaeologist at the Foundation for Maya Cultural and Natural Heritage (PACUNAM).
Ramírez announced the find at a press conference hosted by PACUNAM and Guatemala’s Institute of Anthropology and History on 8 April 2021.
Amazingly, the discovery was made within one of the most extensively excavated archaeological sites on Earth, as archaeologists zoomed in on an aerial image of the mound in 2018 using laser scanning equipment called “Light Detection And Ranging”, LiDAR.
Back in 2018 the revolutionary technology had allowed scholars to embark on a “major breakthrough” after the ruins of more than 60,000 houses and palaces were unveiled after being shrouded for centuries in the jungles of northern Guatemala.
The laser laid bare the shape of a human-made structure –a pyramid – hidden under centuries of accumulated soil and vegetation. Furthermore, it was discovered to be part of an ancient layout that also included a large enclosed courtyard with smaller buildings around it.
It was not just the discovery in itself that stunned experts, but rather the fact that they were quite different from any others found at Tikal. The uncovered complex resembled the citadel at Teotihuacan, located more than 600 miles away, in what is now Mexico City.
“The similarity of the details was stunning,” Brown University archaeologist Stephen Houston, who was part of the team who first noticed the striking features, was quoted as saying by Science Magazine.
Using the LiDAR images, Edwin Román-Ramírez, the director of the South Tikal Archaeological Project, launched a series of excavations in the summer of 2020.
Artefacts discovered by his team ranged from Teotihuacan-style weapons, some made from green obsidian from central Mexico, to incense burners and carvings of Teotihuacan’s rain god. A burial with Teotihuacan-style offerings in the pyramid offered more tell-tale clues to the purpose of the site.