For over 3 decades, archaeologist Anabel Ford, Director of the Mesoamerican Research Center of the University of California, Santa Barbara, has been exploring and studying the historical Maya web site of El Pilar. Divided alongside the imaginary line between western Belize and northeastern Guatemala, El Pilar is considered the biggest web site inside the Belize River location, boasting over 25 known plazas and masses of different structures, covering a place of approximately a hundred and twenty acres. Monumental construction at El Pilar started within the Middle Preclassic period, around 800 BCE, and at its peak centuries later it supported greater than 20,000 people. Visitors today can see a number of its structural remains revealed via archaeology, although Ford has taken care to ensure that maximum of it remains un-exposed, enshrouded and consequently covered within its jungle cover. She is as a whole lot an ardent conservationist as she is an archaeologist.
She is also among the pioneering archaeologists who've lately carried out a brand new technology, called LiDAR, or Light Detection and Ranging, a remote sensing approach the usage of pulsed laser to “see”, frequently from airborne gadgets or aircraft, what cannot be visible on the floor from the air with the aid of the naked eye. Over the beyond few years it has been used to discover a far large historic Maya international — including huge systems and different cultural functions which have remained invisible because they have been hidden for centuries under the dense cloak of a tropical landscape. The media has sensationalized a few latest LiDAR-related discoveries via different archaeological groups, together with the detection of greater than 60,000 historic Maya cultural features inside Guatemala’s Maya Biosphere Reserve, touted in a National Geographic article as a “primary leap forward” in Maya archaeology; and the University of Arizona article that pronounced the invention of thousands more structures previously undetected within the vicinity of historic Ceibal, also in Guatemala. And Ford, now already a veteran of four years making use of LiDAR to El Pilar and its surrounding vicinity, has already “blanketed 10 km2” of the forested area through applying the new era.
But she is not hesitant to add that “LiDAR is not a magic wand”.* She asserts that “there may be still a crucial want to apply floor-truthing techniques to validate findings by archaeologists inside the discipline”.* What she means is that, once an preliminary LiDAR survey is carried out, the lengthy and heavy-obligation paintings of verifying the information consists of bodily identifying and/or uncovering the corresponding features on the floor. “In the course of our subject validation over the last 4 years,” she writes in a current file of her findings, “we've got found out tons approximately the relationship among the panorama and the LiDAR-primarily based visualizations, and importantly between the visualizations and the validation of cultural features. It really all boils right down to setting “boots on the floor.”*
In other words, though the startling and super preliminary discoveries being made with LiDAR from the air may be grist for sensational news tales, it most effective tells a small part of the whole story of discovery, the most vital component of which takes location on the surface through the tough paintings of floor-truthing — testing the visual facts with the reality at the ground. Ford has already so far “confirmed 1,214 “GoTo” factors, mapped 1,335 new cultural capabilities, verified 611 home structures, and mapped 7 civic monumental web sites”, in line with her file.* Through her efforts with LiDAR in 2013, she additionally uncovered and described the capabilities of a unique Maya monumental structure at El Pilar which she has dubbed the “Citadel”, an architectural edifice and not using a precedent in the Maya international.
Given the large amounts of records that LiDAR has supplied, says Ford, the resulting research, evaluation and basis will pass on for years to come, commencing a substantially elevated window at the historical Maya international.
Ford and her colleagues file approximately the findings in a piece of writing posted in the approaching Spring 2018 problem of Popular Archaeology Magazine, to be launched in March.