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- Remote Sensing
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- National Science Foundation
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Airborne Lidar Survey, Density-Based Clustering, and Ancient Maya Settlement in the Upper Usumacinta River Region of Mexico and GuatemalaWe present results from the archaeological analysis of 331 km2 of high-resolution airborne lidar data collected in the Upper Usumacinta River basin of Mexico and Guatemala. Multiple visualizations of the DEM and multi-spectral data from four lidar transects crossing the Classic period (AD 350–900) Maya kingdoms centered on the sites of Piedras Negras, La Mar, and Lacanja Tzeltal permitted the identification of ancient settlement and associated features of agricultural infrastructure. HDBSCAN (hierarchical density-based clustering of applications with noise) cluster analysis was applied to the distribution of ancient structures to define urban, peri-urban, sub-urban, and rural settlement zones. Interpretations of these remotely sensed data are informed by decades of ground-based archaeological survey and excavations, as well as a rich historical record drawn from inscribed stone monuments. Our results demonstrate that these neighboring kingdoms in three adjacent valleys exhibit divergent patterns of structure clustering and low-density urbanism, distributions of agricultural infrastructure, and economic practices during the Classic period. Beyond meeting basic subsistence needs, agricultural production in multiple areas permitted surpluses likely for the purposes of tribute, taxation, and marketing. More broadly, this research highlights the strengths of HDBSCAN to the archaeological study of settlement distributions when compared to more commonly applied methodsmore »
Four millennia of geomorphic change and human settlement in the lower Usumacinta–Grijalva River Basin, Mexico
The lower Usumacinta–Grijalva River Basin contains one of the richest biodiversity landscapes of the Maya region. Our research is based on (1) an integrative literature review of the geomorphological and archaeological papers published about the lower Usumacinta–Grijalva River Basin and (2) topographic analysis of digital elevation models using a geographical information system to explore the relationship between past human settlement and landscape accessibility along the coastal plain of Tabasco. This work provides a new synthesis of previous research and proposes new models for the geomorphic evolution of the lower Usumacinta–Grijalva River Basin in the context of four millennia of human land use and settlement. For the evolution of the strand-plain of the Usumacinta and Grijalva rivers, there are two published geochronological models that provide different chronologies. We discuss here how both geochronological models encompass Pre-Columbian human settlement in the delta. Interestingly, we notice that one of them overlaps a possible high-magnitude flood event (or events) that drove large geomorphic change around 750 CE (1200 BP), with implications for settlement patterns and chronology. Based on topographical analysis of the eastern-distal sector of the Usumacinta–Grijalva delta, we propose a new model for the evolution of this area with implications for the humanmore »
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Airborne laser scanning has proven useful for rapid and extensive documentation of historic cultural landscapes after years of applications mapping natural landscapes and the built environment. The recent integration of unoccupied aerial vehicles (UAVs) with LiDAR systems is potentially transformative and offers complementary data for mapping targeted areas with high precision and systematic study of coupled natural and human systems. We report the results of data capture, analysis, and processing of UAV LiDAR data collected in the Maya Lowlands of Chiapas, Mexico in 2019 for a comparative landscape study. Six areas of archaeological settlement and long-term land-use reflecting a diversity of environments, land cover, and archaeological features were studied. These missions were characterized by areas that were variably forested, rugged, or flat, and included pre-Hispanic settlements and agrarian landscapes. Our study confirms that UAV LiDAR systems have great potential for broader application in high-precision archaeological mapping applications. We also conclude that these studies offer an important opportunity for multi-disciplinary collaboration. UAV LiDAR offers high-precision information that is not only useful for mapping archaeological features, but also provides critical information about long-term land use and landscape change in the context of archaeological resources.
Lowland Maya civilization flourished in the tropical region of the Yucatan peninsula and environs for more than 2500 years (~1000 BCE to 1500 CE). Known for its sophistication in writing, art, architecture, astronomy, and mathematics, Maya civilization still poses questions about the nature of its cities and surrounding populations because of its location in an inaccessible forest. In 2016, an aerial lidar survey across 2144 square kilometers of northern Guatemala mapped natural terrain and archaeological features over several distinct areas. We present results from these data, revealing interconnected urban settlement and landscapes with extensive infrastructural development. Studied through a joint international effort of interdisciplinary teams sharing protocols, this lidar survey compels a reevaluation of Maya demography, agriculture, and political economy and suggests future avenues of field research.