Remote-Sensing Reveals Details of Ancient Olmec Site in Mexico

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Aerial remote-sensing of a ample portion of Mexico has revealed hundreds of past Mesoamerican ceremonial centers, including a ample 1 astatine an important tract for the past Olmec civilization that is known for its colossal chromatic heads.

The remote-sensing method, called lidar, pinpointed 478 ceremonial centers successful areas that were location to the past Olmec and Maya cultures dating to astir 1100–400 BC, researchers said connected Monday. The survey was the largest specified survey involving past Mesoamerica, covering each of the authorities of Tabasco, confederate Veracruz, and bits of Chiapas, Campeche, and Oaxaca.

Lidar, abbreviated for Light Detection and Ranging, uses a pulsed laser and different information obtained portion flying implicit a tract to make three-dimensional accusation astir the signifier of aboveground characteristics. It penetrates vegetation and pinpoints structures that different mightiness not beryllium seen from the aerial oregon the ground.

Researchers Daniela Triadan and Veronica Vazquez prosecute  successful  excavation enactment    astatine  the Aguada Fenix archeological site Researchers Daniela Triadan and Veronica Vazquez prosecute successful excavation enactment astatine the Aguada Fenix archeological tract successful Mexico’s Tabasco state, connected March 2020. ( Takeshi Inomata/Handout via Reuters).

A ample ceremonial halfway was spotted astatine the aboriginal Olmec tract called San Lorenzo, which is located successful Veracruz successful the lowlands adjacent the Gulf of Mexico and was astatine its highest from astir 1400–1000 BC. The Olmecs represented the oldest-known large Mesoamerican civilization and are thought to person influenced aboriginal cultures, including the Maya.

University of Arizona archaeologist Takeshi Inomata, who led the survey published successful the diary Nature Human Behaviour, said lidar spotted a ample and antecedently chartless rectangular earthen ceremonial abstraction astatine San Lorenzo.

It measures astir 3,300 feet by 900 feet (1,000 meters by 275 meters), with 20 platforms astir the borderline somewhat elevated supra it. Its intent remains unclear but it whitethorn person been a plaza wherever ample numbers of radical gathered for immoderate benignant of ceremonies, portion the platforms surrounding the plaza whitethorn person had residences, Inomata said.

Visitor looks astatine  an Olmec colossal caput  during the preview of "Colossal masterworks of the Olmec world" accumulation  astatine  the Anthropology Museum successful  Mexico City A visitant looks astatine an Olmec colossal caput during the preview of “Colossal masterworks of the Olmec world” accumulation astatine the Anthropology Museum successful Mexico City, connected July 20, 2011. (Carlos Jasso/Reuters)

The Olmec heads, each fashioned from a azygous basalt boulder, are among the astir evocative pieces of creation from past Mesoamerica. The naturalistic facial features are carved successful specified a mode that experts fishy they are representations of existent past Olmec rulers.

Ten of the heads person been discovered astatine San Lorenzo. Inomata said determination whitethorn beryllium much of them undiscovered astatine related sites.

Many of the hundreds of ceremonial complexes identified successful the survey stock communal layouts similar the 1 astatine San Lorenzo. Many look to person been built with orientations aligned with the absorption of sunrise connected circumstantial cardinal ceremonial dates.

“These centers were astir apt the earliest worldly expressions of basal concepts of Mesoamerican calendars,” Inomata said, noting that specified calendars were based connected a portion of 20 days—matching the fig of platforms astir the San Lorenzo ceremonial center.

An adjacent larger ceremonial center, described by Inomata and his colleagues past year, was recovered astatine a tract successful the Maya portion called Aguada Fenix successful Tabasco adjacent the Guatemalan border. Dating to somewhat aboriginal than the 1 astatine San Lorenzo, it and others recovered successful the survey suggest that Olmecs and different peoples successful the portion exchanged ideas.

Lidar has proven progressively utile for archaeologists.

“The vantage of lidar is that it provides a three-dimensional, birds-eye presumption of the scenery and modifications to it made by humans— past and modern—in the signifier of building, transportation, cultivation and h2o power infrastructure,” said lidar technologist and survey co-author Juan Carlos Fernandez-Diaz of the University of Houston’s National Center of Airborne Laser Mapping.

“Lidar besides allows america to ‘see’ the scenery and infrastructure that successful galore parts of the satellite is hidden nether wood cover,” Fernandez-Diaz added.

By Will Dunham