Archaeology has always been a science for the patient, for those who could stand mind-numbingly long hours of categorization and ever-so-careful days of digging to reveal just another square foot of a lost city or temple. Screw that noise, said a number of Florida scientists, who have now successfully applied Light Detection and Ranging (LiDAR) technology to mapping hidden jewels of the archaeological world.
While this limits the amount of derring-do, traps sprung and bands of restless natives barely escaped from by adventuring archaeologists, it does make the science of archaeology a hell of a lot faster.
In 2009, the University of Central Florida's John Weishampel, a professor of biology, decided to apply the burgeoning technology of LiDAR to a Maya settlement in Caracol, Belize. The city has been under study for over 25 years by two other UCF faculty, Diane and Arlen chase. By using the muscles and naiveté of graduate and undergrad students alike, they have been able to map 9 square miles of the settlement, which they estimate once held over 100,000 people.
Weishampel, in an effort to speed up the process, attached a LiDAR device to a Cessna 337, mounted sensors under the jungle canopy, and went to town. The results, now compiled and available, mapped 77 square miles of the city, doing 25 years worth of work in one twenty-four hour flight.
The Cessna's findings also dovetailed nicely with the predictions of the professors Chase for both the size and scope of the city. The LiDAR system was able to provide enough data to make a detailed topographical map, as well as discover a host of new causeways and hidden caves.
Topographical Map: Hey Hey it's the Mayans!
Although previously used in archeology applications and in military technology, this is the first time LiDAR has been able to map a significant portion of city in a such a short period of time.
No word yet on if the technology is able to detect rolling boulder traps or fanatic cultists who like to tear the hearts of unwary explorers from their chests, but we hope not. Archeology needs some excitement, after all.