LiDAR (Light Detection and Ranging) technology is a remote sensing technique that measures distances using light pulses. Practically, the distance is derived by calculating the time for the emitted light to return to the sensor (given that the speed of light is constant). The technology can produce the 3-dimensional terrain of a region or a structure.
As centuries pass by, the detection of ancient infrastructure becomes challenging due to their deterioration and vegetation growth. LiDAR instruments are currently deployed from planes to detect and map ancient structures that archaeologists could not identify with terrestrial means.
The new study conducted the first LiDAR survey on a 100-kilometer roadway that connected two Mayan cities, Cobá and Yaxuná, in the Yucatán Peninsula around the 7th century. The road was initially examined in the 1930s and was poorly mapped using casual means. Back then, it was assumed that the road was straight, an assumption that was unreal, according to the new data.
Instead, LiDAR mapping revealed that the road was deliberately curved in order to pass by towns and cities between its initial and final spot. “...We also now know the road is not straight, which suggests that it was built to incorporate these preexisting settlements, and that has interesting geo-political implications. This road was not just connecting Cobá and Yaxuná; it connected thousands of people who lived in the intermediary region,” Traci Ardren, a co-author of the study, an archaeologist and a Professor of Anthropology at the University of Miami, stated.
The roadway was an impressive engineering accomplishment equivalent to the Mayan Pyramids. The route was made by limestone blocks and was relatively flat despite constructed in rough terrain. The surface was covered with a layer of mortar similar to Roman concrete.
The road was probably constructed due to the intention of K'awiil Ajaw, the queen and ruler of Cobá, to invade Yaxuná. The campaign was motivated by the rise of another Mayan city, Chichén Itzá. "I personally think the rise of Chichén Itzá and its allies motivated the road...(Cobá) is trying to hold on to its power, so with the rise of Chichén Itzá, it needed a stronghold in the center of the peninsula. The road is one of the last-gasp efforts of Cobá to maintain its power. And we believe it may have been one of the accomplishments of K’awiil Ajaw, who is documented as having conducted wars of territorial expansion,” Prof. Ardren, mentioned.
Currently, this assumption is under investigation. Scientists are examining the ancient infrastructure in the 2 cities to track any similarities between their structures and goods. Excavations works have been conducted and will also continue in sites between Cobá and Yaxuná.
Source: University of Miami