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Lost 2,000-year-old 'kingdom' found in Guatemala

Researchers have discovered a 2,000-year-old Mayan kingdom in northern Guatemala, a new study shows.

Cambridge University Press.

An ancient Mayan kingdom from around 2,000 years ago has been discovered buried in northern Guatemala, researchers say.

Archaeologists have uncovered nearly 1,000 ancient Maya settlements in the Karst Mirador-Calakmul Basin and surrounding mountain ranges. In these settlements, they identified 417 cities, towns and villages that existed in the period between 1,000 BC and 100 AD, according to a study published online Dec. 5 by Cambridge University Press.

Using LiDAR technology—a remote sensing method that generates three-dimensional images and information about the Earth’s surface, according to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration—the researchers determined that the settlements comprised a more sophisticated, interconnected realm.

The archaeologists said their findings show a highly functional state-level kingdom “connected by bridges, forming a web of implicit social, political, and economic interactions” and “which required vast amounts of labor and resources, accumulated by an organization and administration presumably centralized. 🇧🇷

Here are some of their findings.

ball courts

Within the network of settlements, archaeologists discovered a total of 30 ball courts, the study said.

The courts, which were about 30 to 65 feet long, typically comprised “two parallel structures, usually on a north-south axis,” the researchers said.

At one of the larger sites, El Mirador, seven blocks were discovered: three small and four large. The larger courts are located on the site’s Great Central Acropolis, indicating what may have been the ruler’s seat of power.

Water control: reservoirs and dams

The new findings also gave researchers greater insight into the extent to which ancient civilizations controlled their water sources.

Civilizations in the Mirador-Calakmul Karst Basin depended on the surrounding swamps as sources of water, creating a need for reservoirs to hold water, the researchers said. The LiDAR data revealed 195 man-made reservoirs, as well as “a number of monumental reservoir systems designed for massive water intake and control.”

Several dams have also been discovered within the kingdom.

Sidewalks: a “culminating achievement”

Described as a “culminating achievement”, there existed a branching system of bridges between and within the Maya realm, indicating “intra-community connectivity and integration”, the researchers said.

Most of the system’s sidewalks were built with lime and clay mixes that required significant labor.

A system of causeways connected different settlements within the kingdom, the research shows. Cambridge University Press.

The new findings revealed that most of the causeways were centered on El Mirador, the kingdom’s greatest civilization, suggesting “an administrative centralization,” according to the researchers. The system also points to the development of political and economic systems as a result of authority.

Architecture: pyramids and e-grounds

The new discoveries also revealed the existence of intricate architectural structures throughout the kingdom.

Electronic groups, used for rituals and ceremonies, consist of various structures, usually a pyramid opposite a platform flanking a larger plaza. These groups were found in various settlements across the kingdom, varying in size depending on the complexity of the settlement, the researchers said.

Some smaller settlements consisted of little more than an e-group, the researchers said. Cambridge University Press.

Settlements also contained triadic architecture, typically pyramids.

The complex structures and building materials used to erect these pyramids are indicative of organization within ancient settlements, researchers said.

It is estimated that a pyramid, located in the center of El Mirador, required 5 years of consistent work by 158 workers. “The entire building could have 6,000,000 to 10,000,000 people per workday,” the researchers said.

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Moira Ritter covers real-time news for McClatchy. She is a graduate of Georgetown University, where she studied government, journalism and German. Previously, she reported for CNN Business.