Airborne lasers have "stripped" away thick rain forests to reveal new images of an ancient Maya metropolis that's far bigger than anyone had thought.
An April 2009 flyover of the Maya city of Caracol used Light Detection and Ranging (LiDAR) equipment—which bounces laser beams off the ground—to help scientists construct a 3-D map of the settlement in western Belize. The survey revealed previously unknown buildings, roads, and other features in just four days, scientists announced earlier this month at the International Symposium on Archaeometry in Tampa, Florida. (Read about the rise and fall of the Maya in National Geographic magazine.)
University of Central Florida anthropologists Arlen and Diane Chase have spent decades hacking through the tangled undergrowth that has engulfed the powerful city—which thrived between A.D. 550 and 900. So far they've uncovered only a tiny fraction of the ruins.
"It's like literally removing all of the plant growth, so that we can see down below," Arlen Chase said.
The Chases direct the University of Central Florida Caracol Archaeological Project, a collaborative effort with the Belize Institute of Archaeology. NASA funded the 2009 LiDAR survey, which was carried out by the National Center for Airborne Laser Mapping.