Guatemala rainforest
Mayukh Saha
Mayukh Saha
April 17, 2024 ·  3 min read

Ancient Maya City Has Been Discovered Under The Guatemala Rainforest In Now ‘Inhospitable’ Area

Researchers at an archaeological dig in a Guatemala rainforest have uncovered a 2000-year-old ancient Maya city. Needless to say, this discovery has definitely revealed a lot of information about the Mayan civilization. The researchers, including those who belonged to the Universidad de San Carlos in Guatemala, discovered the site after they carried out an aerial survey using Lidar technology. For those unaware, this technology involves using laser light- bouncing off surfaces to create a map based on the duration it takes for the pulses to return with a receiver. 

This technology is gaining major prominence for discovering civilizations that are long gone- including this ancient Maya city and those buried beneath the thick tropical rainforests. Interestingly, this technology is also the main key to finding evidence of lost and ancient settlements hiding beneath the dense tree canopies in the Mirador-Calakmul Karst Basin in the country. The research was then published the previous month in the journal of Ancient Mesoamerica. It says that the ancient city had close to 1000 urban settlements linked with 160 km of causeways. The entire area had a span of around 1,700 square km. 

Ancient Maya city has been discovered under the Guatemala rainforest
Image credit: Ancient Mesoamerica

Ancient Maya City Discovered in Guatemala Using Lidar Technology

The researchers wrote, “This study uses airborne Lidar data to demonstrate how complex societies organized their infrastructure to reflect their socio-economic organization and political power.” However, the current findings negate that theory. This led to the researchers believing that the ancient Maya city had a lot of labor and resources- which they put in the area, “amassed by a presumably centralized organization and administration.” [1]

Ancient Maya city has been discovered under the Guatemala rainforest
Image credit: Ancient Mesoamerica

Lidar Technology Has Changed Archeology Forever

The technology used to discover the ancient Maya city has also revealed that the civilization quite possibly played many ball sports, as they had ball courts spread around the area. The Lidar survey also discovered pyramid constructions and large outlets in the area. The society had been responsible for creating big reservoir systems that helped collect water and a rainwater management area. This society was also interested in the arts, as they developed highly sophisticated forms of writing, art, calendar, architecture, astronomical systems, and mathematics.

Despite the sterile environment that they had built their kingdom around, there must have been something exciting that made them settle here in the first place. According to Ross Ensley, a geologist with the Institute for Geological Study of the Maya Lowlands in Houston, “For the Maya, the Mirador-Calakmul Karst Basin was the Goldilocks Zone. The Maya settled in because it had the right mix of uplands for settlement and lowlands for farming. The uplands provided a source of limestone, their primary building material, and dry land to live on. The lowlands are mostly seasonal swamps, or bajos, which provided space for wetland farming as well as organic-rich soil for use in terraced farming.” [2]

Researchers have been using Lidar technology for quite some time to find other ancient Maya cities. In 2015, they managed to scope out a large part of the ancient city of El Mirador. One of the leads in the study, Morales-Aguilar, said, “When I rendered the first bare-earth models of the ancient city of El Mirador, I was blown away. It was fascinating to observe for the first time a large number of reservoirs, monumental pyramids, terraces, residential areas, and small mounds.” [3]

Keep Reading: Amateurs discovered an ancient grave that rewrites history


  1. Lasers reveal massive, 650-square-mile Maya site hidden beneath Guatemalan rainforest.” Live Science. Jennifer Nalewicki. January 2023.
  2. Ancient Mayan city discovered beneath Guatemala rainforest.” Independent. Vishwam Sankaran. January 12, 2023.
  3. Ancient Maya city has been discovered under the Guatemala rainforest in now ‘inhospitable’ area.” Unilad. Gregory Robinson. January 12, 2023.