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Earth Science

Lidar Finds Overgrown Maya Pyramids 169

Posted by kdawson
from the run-but-you-can't-hide dept.
AlejoHausner writes "A team of archaeologists scanned the jungle of Belize with lidar. Although most of the reflections came from the jungle canopy, some light reflected off the ground surface. Using this, suddenly hidden pyramids, agricultural terraces, and ancient roads are revealed, at 6-inch resolution. The data allowed the archaeologists to bolster their theory that the ancient city of Caracol covered more than 70 square miles of urban sprawl and supported a population of over 115,000."
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Lidar Finds Overgrown Maya Pyramids

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  • by adeft (1805910) on Tuesday May 11, 2010 @12:50PM (#32171178)
    Seems like it might be useful for finding downed aircrafts and other missing objects....maybe even people?
    • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

      by biryokumaru (822262)
      Meh, I think people are too squishy. They'd probably blend in with plants and stuff. Aircraft should work, though.
    • by pyroclast (1809246) on Tuesday May 11, 2010 @01:34PM (#32171828)

      Seems like it might be useful for finding downed aircrafts and other missing objects....maybe even people?

      Great thought, but the time to process lidar data takes a while. So planes and objects sure, but even the logistics to get this done takes time. Not sure about people, due to resolution over a vast area and again logistics. The bare-earth relief (which strips away a degree of vegetation) lidar offers is incredible. Cartographers and geologist have only recently really taken advantage of the technology. But in time and $, these other uses could definitely be considered, especially when resolution and processing is more developed.

      • Re: (Score:2, Insightful)

        by Mabbo (1337229)
        Processing the data takes a while- today. In the 80's, MP3 compression was good, but took too long to process for consumer products.
      • Hm, the article says they did the lab processing in 3 weeks. I'm guessing this stuff lends itself to parallel processing — I wonder if they used that.

    • LIDAR could be used to find Waldo and Jimmy Hoffa.

    • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

      by Message (303377)

      The summary alluded to this but mostly what you get is reflection off the canopy... when you start talking dense jungle.. triple canopy type areas then this is not going to be effective...

      • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

        by jd (1658)

        When working in or around a reflective medium, it is helpful to change the frequency to one that doesn't create so much noise. (RADAR became much more useful over water and in bad weather when the wavelength was shortened.) If something that made the canopy transparent but interesting objects below clear was an easy problem, it would have been done already, rather than relying heavily on computational analysis. However, nothing wrong with analytical techniques, which would still be very useful if a better t

      • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

        by SteveFoerster (136027)

        It's amazing what names people will come up with to get a cool sounding acronym....

        • by tehcyder (746570)

          It's amazing what names people will come up with to get a cool sounding acronym....

          Americans, you mean.

  • Cool. (Score:5, Funny)

    by 2names (531755) on Tuesday May 11, 2010 @01:33PM (#32171822)
    Now find Atlantis.
    • Re: (Score:2, Insightful)

      by c4tp (526292)
      I was about to say, if Indiana Jones had LIDAR, those movies would be a lot shorter.
      • by JWSmythe (446288)

        Don't forget, significantly less interesting.

        "Today is day 4. We're flying the remainder of the target area and capturing data."

        "Today is day 15. We're still processing the data."

        "Today is day 30. We're still processing the data."

        "Today is day 45. We've taken a helicopter to the most obvious structure with a nearby clearing. We confirmed it is a structure, but there are no sort of identifying marks on it. They likely have been erod

      • Now find Atlantis.

        I was about to say, if Indiana Jones had LIDAR, those movies would be a lot shorter.

        Why settle for LIDAR when you can have Orichalcum? [wikipedia.org]

    • Find big foot, then Nessy and THEN Atlantis.

    • Re:Cool. (Score:5, Interesting)

      by PopeRatzo (965947) * on Tuesday May 11, 2010 @02:25PM (#32172592) Homepage Journal

      Now find Atlantis.

      You mock, but the discoveries of megalithic structures over the past twenty years have called into question a lot of our assumptions about the earliest civilizations with technology. There are rock carvings being discovered in the Southern part of Africa that show very advanced understanding of astronomy, geography and time measurement that appear to be over twenty thousand years old which is much, much earlier than previously thought.

      If we can ever get scientists to be able to really research the pyramids and nearby structures without the dictatorial control of the Egyptian government, there is reason to believe that there are references to sophisticated understanding of astronomy going back over fifty thousand years.

      When I worked at the University of Chicago, I used to hang with people from the Oriental Institute. From them, I learned just how shaky a lot of the theories regarding Early Egyptian culture really are, including but not limited to how in the hell the pyramids were built. One of the foremost Egyptologists in the world once confirmed to me that the accepted theories are clearly ridiculous, that the notion that you can drag, or roll on logs, granite blocks weighing up to 100 tons for several miles, and then erasing every sign of the way in which they were moved, is just nonsense. Further, he'd like to know, how in the hell were they able to move those stones over 100 feet in the air to place them at the top of the pile?

      This gentleman, now dead, explained that Egyptology specifically, and archeology generally, are so political that any theory or work done outside the mainstream is killed before it can even be peer-reviewed. This guy, a professor emeritus at the time, told me he'd had a 20 year correspondence with crypto-archeologist Graham Hancock and he was careful to tell me that though he disagreed with most of Hancock's assertions, that some of them deserved much closer consideration. And it's not only academic politics that have shaped our "consensus" regarding those civilizations. Religious and political forces have played an even greater role in making sure that the accepted history supports certain orthodoxies.

      Atlantis? Well, probably not, but once you get past 50,000 years it's not at all impossible that there was a relatively advanced civilization on this planet that subsequently disappeared. Almost every native culture on Earth has legends about a "golden age" when a more advanced civilization existed, which then disappeared during a subsequent "dark age".

      • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

        by 2names (531755)
        I'm not mocking at all. My original post was meant to be serious. It's not my fault that people thought it was funny.

        Now get off your educated ass and find Atlantis, dammit.
        • by Macrat (638047)

          Now get off your educated ass and find Atlantis, dammit.

          You're assuming it actually existed.

      • Re:Cool. (Score:5, Interesting)

        by gyrogeerloose (849181) on Tuesday May 11, 2010 @02:58PM (#32173014) Journal

        once you get past 50,000 years it's not at all impossible that there was a relatively advanced civilization on this planet that subsequently disappeared.

        You don't even have to go back that far. The Minoan people of ancient Crete were well on the way to an industrial revolution of of their own that predated that of England by a couple of thousand years. If it wasn't for an inopportune volcanic eruption which completely wiped the Minoans out back around 1400 BCE, we might have had electronic computers by Roman times and those flying cars and jet packs we all wish for by now.

        • Re:Cool. (Score:5, Funny)

          by Chris Burke (6130) on Tuesday May 11, 2010 @03:27PM (#32173336) Homepage

          The Minoan people of ancient Crete were well on the way to an industrial revolution of of their own that predated that of England by a couple of thousand years. If it wasn't for an inopportune volcanic eruption which completely wiped the Minoans out back around 1400 BCE,

          A volcano... or the horrific results of their experimentation with bio-engineering and the creation of a man-bull hybrid?!

          Food for thought.

        • Re: (Score:2, Funny)

          by Whatshisface (1203604)
          And we would have been only 20 years away from cold fusion and unlimited free power.
        • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

          by MontyApollo (849862)

          I had a professor once that pretty effectively argued that Crete was Atlantis. I have forgot most of the arguments, but I believe one of them was that if you assumed a common translation error in numbers that Plato might have committed, then the eruption of Thera would coincide very well with the (corrected) time period of Atlantis's fall.

          • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

            by gyrogeerloose (849181)

            I had a professor once that pretty effectively argued that Crete was Atlantis

            Yes, I've heard that too; in fact, one of the books I got my info on the Minoans from suggested the same. Also, that the eruption of Thera [wikipedia.org] was possibly the cause of the parting of the Reed Sea [wikipedia.org], a shallow marshy area of northern Egypt, which is incorrectly translated as "Red Sea" in the Bible.

      • by G00F (241765)

        he disagreed with most of Hancock's assertions, that some of them deserved much closer consideration. And it's not only academic politics that have shaped our "consensus" regarding those civilizations. Religious and political forces have played an even greater role in making sure that the accepted history supports certain orthodoxies.

        Do you have any that you can share? Any specifics?

        I would like to know more than just what "lies my teacher told me" kind of books show. History is important, and unfortunately are rewriting to suit the winners, usually with political/religion goals. I didn't think discovery was that harsh, although suspected it played a roll.

        So please impart with us more than a simple "the truth is out there" . . .

        • Re:Cool. (Score:4, Insightful)

          by Sleepy (4551) on Tuesday May 11, 2010 @03:45PM (#32173570) Homepage

          It would be more accurate to say your history books are full of mistruths, but if you want examples, just pick nearly any thing from a high school history book... and then REALLY research it.

          1) We're all told that Benedict Arnold was simply a traitor to the American Revolution... but not that he was mistreated prior to that. (note: I'm not drawing judgment, these are simply facts).
          2) We're all told that the "Americas" were sparsely populated by a few tens of thousands - not millions - of "natives". The "Trail of Tears" gets about 1/2 page coverage - scant compared to other 19th and 10th century genocides..
          3) General Custer died a hero, and was NOT a coward who engaged in genocidal killings of women and infants.
          4) Jesus was blonde, blue-eyed, and never took a wife

          I'm just rattling off 4 I could think of inside of a few seconds.

          (And to any perceived anti-US bias comments, it's untrue to suggest that. I happen to be most familiar with my own culture and therefore capable of poking holes in the lies it teaches. Every culture is guilty of this, but I can't be expected to have the same level of familiarity with those other cultures. Whatever, most people get it right?)

        • by PopeRatzo (965947) *

          Do you have any that you can share? Any specifics?

          Yes.

          There was never a Jewish "King David". All of the main characters in very early Jewish culture were actually Egyptians, including, of course, Moses.

          And Jesus was from a wealthy and powerful family and actually had a claim to the throne. He may have even been related by blood to Cleopatra.

          Regarding King David: all of the stories about King David have no basis in archeological record. But, there is an Egyptian character of an earlier period with exactly

          • Re: (Score:2, Interesting)

            by osu-neko (2604)

            Some interesting reading about these issues can be found in the books of Ralph Ellis. Another researcher who academics publicly label as a "kook" while begrudgingly accepting his conclusions in private.

            Yes, but they also begrudgingly admit it's all a conspiracy due to him being behind on his Illuminati dues in private. (Hey wow, I can claim anything I want about what people do "in private" and point to the lack of published acknowledgment as proof! Of course, only a complete and utter fucking moron would believe me, since, of course, if they only do it in private, how the hell would I know?)

      • Re:Cool. (Score:5, Interesting)

        by Locke2005 (849178) on Tuesday May 11, 2010 @03:06PM (#32173098)
        The Egyptians were experts in using water. Easy to level the base of the pyramids, just flood the whole area on a calm day, and mark the water level. Likewise, why drag/roll stones for miles when you can just build a canal and float them to the work site? With use temporary dykes and thousands of people to pump water up hill, you could practically float them into place and drop them. Of course, there would be no trace left of temporary systems put in place to move stones, be they canals or ramps, any more than there are traces of scaffolding around the great cathedrals.

        I also find silly our clinging to the belief that there was absolutely no interaction between Egyptian and South American civilizations, despite growing evidence of "native" South American plants showing up in ancient Egypt. It seems like blatant Euro-centricism to assume that Europeans were the only ones capable of "discovering" new continents, especially since these continents were already inhabited by other peoples!
        • by PopeRatzo (965947) *

          just flood the whole area on a calm day

          Flood the entire plain of Giza to a hundred feet?

          Come on.

          • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

            by Locke2005 (849178)
            Uh, no. Dig a shallow pit where the base of the pyramid is going to go. Flood it. Mark the water level all around. Now you know exactly where your first course of stones needs to start to be perfectly level. Lower level stones could have been floated into place using dikes and locks, but yes, this is probably impractical for higher level stones. But water could be used to lift stones arbitrarily high by a simple method: build a dike on the opposite side of structure. Add heavy boat and fill with water. Run
            • by eh2o (471262)

              A contemporary theory is that the stones are actually poured concrete that is molded in-place rather than carved and hoisted to position... makes quite a bit more sense and it just takes a lot of brute force to get it there, no fancy engineering really...

            • by PopeRatzo (965947) *

              Some of the largest, heaviest stones are in the highest positions.

              There have been several projects from different countries where engineers have tried to replicate the building of the pyramids using contemporaneous tools.

              None have succeeded.

              • There have been several projects from different countries where engineers have tried to replicate the building of the pyramids using contemporaneous tools.

                None have succeeded.

                This little 'factoid' comes up often, and you know what it proves? Nothing other than some modern day engineers couldn't do it with techniques assumed to have been used. It doesn't prove that someone with an entire generational line of experience behind them in building ancient structures couldn't do it.

                • by radtea (464814)

                  Nothing other than some modern day engineers couldn't do it with techniques assumed to have been used.

                  Yeah, it's pretty much like giving a modern computer scientist a quill, ink and parchment and asking them to work out Newtonian physics from scratch. Why anyone would expect someone with an utterly unrelated skill-set that is tuned up for the modern world to be able to replicate what ancient engineers did is beyond me.

                  The only thing stupider is when archeologists try to do the same thing: people who have clearly never built anything with their hands in their lives trying to intuit the optimal behaviour of

        • by drinkypoo (153816)

          With use temporary dykes and thousands of people to pump water up hill,

          College towns tend to have good beer, which I gather was very important to the Egyptian people and the pyramid laborers in particular, but otherwise I fail to see how LUGs are going to help us here. And I don't mean Linux Users Groups.

        • It seems like blatant Euro-centricism to assume that Europeans were the only ones capable of "discovering" new continents, especially since these continents were already inhabited by other peoples!

          Is it also blatant Euro-centrism to assume that Egyptians couldn't have discovered America because they were woefully lousy sailors?

        • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

          by mjwx (966435)

          I also find silly our clinging to the belief that there was absolutely no interaction between Egyptian and South American civilizations

          Why?

          The level of technological exchange you describe would have required regular communication. Given that the ships of the time could not even cross the Mediterranean safely this is very unlikely. It is not a stretch to think that one Ancient Egyptian or Greek may have crossed the Atlantic (with no understanding of global currents, this would have taken months) but not

      • > Almost every native culture on Earth has legends about a "golden age" when a more advanced civilization existed, which then disappeared during a subsequent "dark age".

        This idea appeared and appears every time after the war, specially in conquests with the resulting establishment of an oppressive regime. With time, it becomes part of the "legendary history" and conforms the roots of many independence movements and nationalisms.

      • There are rock carvings being discovered in the Southern part of Africa that show very advanced understanding of astronomy, geography and time measurement that appear to be over twenty thousand years old which is much, much earlier than previously thought.

        [[citation needed]] An academic one showing how they determined without question that they had 'advanced' knowledge and discussing how the carving were dated. Anything less gets you filed with von Däniken and Art Bell.

        If we can ever get scie

      • by DaveGod (703167)
        Never mind technology, look at behaviour. Anything we don't understand is at best disregarded as "ritual" and at worst some elaborate fantasy is concocted that we don't have, nor could possibly hope to obtain, any evidence to support. (Not that I can be bothered to put in some evidence to support this argument, but this is /. after all).
      • Re:Cool. (Score:5, Insightful)

        by MontyApollo (849862) on Tuesday May 11, 2010 @04:49PM (#32174622)

        I have problem with people making statements about how the pyramids could not be built with the technology available. So called crop circle experts said there was no way humans could be behind crop circles, until they were shown video of two retired guys and a wood plank in fact doing it. People used to talk about how it was scientifically impossible for a bumble bee to fly, but yet it does.

        I think some people think too highly of their ability to figure things out, and they don't give other people enough credit for their ingenuity.

        • by PopeRatzo (965947) *

          until they were shown video of two retired guys and a wood plank in fact doing it

          Crop circles? Why would you bring crop circles into this?

          We're talking about pyramids and megalithic structures, and you bring up crop circles.

          Nice misdirection.

        • by comp.sci (557773)
          It all depends on who you call an expert. A scientifically renown professor doesn't really compare to a "crop circle expert"... Also nobody ever said that bumbebees can't fly, more that they hadn't figured out how.
      • If you're going to bring up Hancock, please allow me to mention Simon. Paul Simon that is - who of course predicted this technique back in 1986 in "The Boy in the Bubble."

        Need some reminding,
        "These are the days of lasers in the jungle,
        Lasers in the jungle somewhere,
        Staccato signals of constant information"

        OK so this is a poor attempt at humor. Couldn't help it - as soon as I read TFA, I got this stupid song ripping through my head.

      • by yusing (216625)
        This tale by Robert Schoch [dailygrail.com] is very revealing about the kind of resistance actual science gets from hidebound Egypt 'scholars'. (And a bit more about Hancock)

        In the past year I've read enough new discoveries to suspect that a major paradigm shift about human history is building. How those big rocks got moved around is one of the more important pieces in the puzzle.

    • Re: (Score:3, Funny)

      by WED Fan (911325)
      Screw Atlantis, I left a prototype G4 phone lying around, can it help me find that?
    • by Locke2005 (849178)
      I don't think LIDAR works underwater. Try SONAR instead.
  • So, I skimmed TFA, and I don't see any pics. Clicked on several links, nothing.

    I'd actually like to see this, it sounds pretty cool -- does anyone have a link which actually has images in it?

  • Fast turnaround (Score:5, Interesting)

    by JustNilt (984644) on Tuesday May 11, 2010 @01:36PM (#32171866) Homepage

    What's most impressive to me is how quickly they got the results. It only took a couple days of actual data gathering then a few weeks of lab processing. Last I heard about anything similar (using satellite images, IIRC) it took months to get results.

    Very cool stuff.

  • Research Report URL (Score:5, Informative)

    by Atraxen (790188) on Tuesday May 11, 2010 @01:38PM (#32171916)

    The NYT article was actually pretty good, but for those who want a bit more 'meat on the bone', here's the 2009 research project report:
    http://caracol.cos.ucf.edu/reports/2009.php [ucf.edu]
    There are some nice examples of the LIDAR images at the end of the page in the Figures section.

    • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

      by city (1189205)
      I was there in November and they have done a really good job there leaving some of the city as it exists today overtaken by the jungle and some restored to show how the Maya lived in the cities. You would have no idea the mounds and hills of the jungle are pyramids and structures. The people there say you can't buy land without diggin up a Maya house in your backyard. Today in Belize there are around 300,000 people in the whole country, versus estimations before the Maya collapse of a couple million. For pe
    • by b4upoo (166390)

      So we have found a large, ancient city with a large population. No good cable television in play explains it all. They had nothing to do but reproduce and without good sewer systems living a few steps away from your neighbors keeps the stink down a bit.

      • by yo_tuco (795102)

        "So we have found a large, ancient city with a large population."

        Significant. One of the largest, ancient and romantic cities were so many of its citizens had broken hearts.

  • These pyramids aren't overgrown, they're just big boned, you insensitive clods.

  • Lidar (Score:5, Funny)

    by LearnToSpell (694184) on Tuesday May 11, 2010 @01:51PM (#32172142) Homepage
    Pretty much my favourite detection system.
  • So can they use this to find the fabled Lost City of Z in the Amazon jungle? And maybe the remains of explorer Percy Fawcett who disappeared looking for it?
    • by atamido (1020905)

      So can they use this to find the fabled Lost City of Z in the Amazon jungle? And maybe the remains of explorer Percy Fawcett who disappeared looking for it?

      For those not in the know, this is possibly a real place that a real explorer went missing while searching for.

      http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Lost_City_of_Z [wikipedia.org]

      • If you want to read a really good book on the subject, David Grann's "The Lost City of Z" is my suggestion. Full of history but not dry or boring at all.
  • Robot Indiana Jones
  • Using this, suddenly hidden pyramids, agricultural terraces, and ancient roads are revealed

    I find that gradually hidden pyramids to be of more architectural interest, while suddenly hidden pyramids are more interesting from an anthropological point of view.

  • But it looks a bit too far afield to be the location of Fawcett's suspected jungle city.

    http://www.amazon.com/Lost-City-Obsession-Vintage-Departures/dp/1400078458/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&s=books&qid=1273642715&sr=8-1

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