Mapping the Mayans with high-powered lasers

You tend to think of archaeologists as academic types, dusting off pottery shards and bones, and a comfy tent in the desert. Generally speaking, you don’t think of them buzzing Mayan ruins and bombarding the jungle with lasers.Yet that’s just what Arlen and Diane Chase are doing in Belize. They’re using LIDAR to scan below the trees, which form an effective screen against satellite imaging, and it’s making mapping the ancient Mayan city of Caracol a snap.

Apparently, they’re able to outdo years of on-the-ground survey in just a few weeks of work with the laser-based system. They’ve found many new features, including houses, agricultural terraces, and ruined roads. It won’t work for every dig site, however; for instance, anything subterranean or obscured by ash or dirt will be invisible to the system.

There’s more information in the New York Times science article — go give it a read.