They have revealed an extremely extensive network of “superhighways”.
The Mayans were extremely advanced – that’s nothing new. But it has always been difficult to measure the extent of their civilization, since so much of it is hidden by the dense and intense rainforests of Guatemala. But now, using light detection and ranging (LiDAR), scientists have revealed a network of nearly 800 Mayan settlements and a sprawling network of interconnected “superhighways.”
These ancient roads include causeways of raised stone, and according to a new study published on the discovery in the journal Ancient Mesoamericathey—along with the more than 400 cities, towns, and villages they link to—suggest a high level of organization for the Preclassic Maya civilization.
“These are our world’s first superhighway systems,” said study lead author Richard Hansen, professor of anthropology at Idaho State University. CNN.
Walking on Clouds
Called sacbes, meaning “white roads,” these causeways rose above the tangled and sometimes swampy lands of the forests. In their early times, sacbes were hardened in a layer of white plaster that helped the basic mixture of mud mortar and carefully quarried stone to be seen more clearly in the moonlight.
The researchers have identified approximately 110 miles of these in their studies so far, some of which are as wide as 110 feet. Neither was their elevation, ranging from 1.5 feet to over 16 feet above the ground. A bright, shiny stone road, so high above the ground, must have made for glorious travel back in the day.
Marcello Canuto, an anthropology professor at Tulane University whose work was cited in the study, said CNN that the construction of the work involved efforts “many people, a lot of labor and coordination.”
“They are complex work projects that would require some kind of coordination and hierarchy,” he said.
According to the study, such high-level infrastructure has the “homogeneous power to organize thousands of workers,” from “lime producers, mortar and quarry specialists, lithic technicians, architects, logistics and agricultural supply specialists, and law enforcement officers and religious.”
However, even as one of the largest studies of the Mayan Lowlands to date, the discovery shows how much of a network of extinct civilizations may still be out of sight.
“Imagine you’re in Poughkeepsie, New Jersey, and that’s all you can see, but maybe you’ll reach this thing we call the turnpike, right, but everything else is covered in the jungle,” explained Canuto . “You will have no idea that this turnip could connect New York to Philadelphia.”
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