2,000-Year-Old Maya Superhighway Discovered in the Jungle of Guatemala

2,000-Year-Old Maya Superhighway Discovered in the Jungle of Guatemala

Few ancient civilizations have left us evidence of the roads they built to maintain effective communication and transportation within their sphere of influence. Until recently, the model for effective road creation and maintenance was ancient Rome. However, the recent discovery of a system of superhighways that once connected pyramidal complexes over a distance of 150 miles (240 km) in Guatemala, means that the Maya civilization may now rival the Romans.

The finding was made last month by researchers of the Mirador Basin (Archaeological) Project. In the Mirador Basin there are many pre-classic Maya sites including El MiradorNakbe, El Pesquero, El Tintal, Wakna, and Xulnal.

Main: A pyramid covered in vegetation at El Mirador. Inset: A Maya stela found at El Mirador

Main: A pyramid covered in vegetation at El Mirador (Dennis Jarvis / flickr). Inset: A Maya stela found at El Mirador (CC by SA 2.0)

High-Tech Scans Reveal 2,000-Year-Old Superhighway

Researchers found the 2000-year-old superhighway using LIDAR mapping technology. Light Detection and Ranging (LIDAR) is an aerial surveying technology that uses lasers to make high-resolution 2D and 3D maps. LIDAR technology enabled researchers to have a 3D view of the Mirador Basin without the dense jungle obscuring it.

LIDAR scan reveals a network of roads in the Guatemala jungle.

LIDAR scan reveals a network of roads in the Guatemala jungle. Credit: Archaeological Project Cuenca Mirador.

Led by Richard D. Hansen, an archaeologist and anthropologist of the University of Utah, the results of the team’s research is providing us with keen insight into the innovations of the ancient Maya civilization.

El Mirador, A Vast City in the Depths of the Jungle

El Mirador was the largest Mayan city-state in Guatemala, and contains the largest known pyramid in Central America. Situated in the Peten jungle of northern Guatemala, Mirador stretched over an area of 2,158 sq km/833 sq m, and included a population of around a million people. Dr. Hansen said El Mirador was “the first state of all the Americas”.  

An illustration showing what El Mirador may have once looked like.

An illustration showing what El Mirador may have once looked like. (Latin American Studies)

LIDAR Reveals the Innovations of the Maya

Using LIDAR, the researchers discovered that hidden beneath the thick canopy of the jungle below, were canals, corrals, pyramids, dikes, and terraces alongside the extensive network of roads.

LIDAR scan reveals a network of roads, canals, corrals, pyramids, and terraces at El Mirador.

LIDAR scan reveals a network of roads, canals, corrals, pyramids, and terraces at El Mirador. Credit: Archaeological Project Cuenca Mirador.

Wide-scale Meat Production

Researchers believe that the animal pens or corrals may have been established first by the inhabitants of El Mirador. Hansen maintains that the sophisticated system of corrals is evidence that meat production in the Mirador Basin may have existed on an industrial level. But he made it clear there needs to be more research to confirm this theory.

The discovery of the Mirador ancient network of roads and new pyramids will provide the Mirador Basin Project researchers with more Maya sites to investigate. Upcoming findings at these sites may help to shed light on why the Mirador Basin civilization declined after 150 AD.

Top image: LIDAR scan reveals a network of roads, canals, corrals, pyramids and terraces at El Mirador. Credit: Archaeological Project Cuenca Mirador.

By Dr.Clyde Winters


Paul Seaburn. Ancient Mayan Superhighways Found in Guatemalan Rain Forest. Mysterious Universe. Available at: http://mysteriousuniverse.org/2016/12/ancient-mayan-superhighways-found-in-guatemalan-rain-forest/

Researchers find “the first network of ancient super-highways in the world”. Actualidad Venezuela. Available at: http://actualidadvenezuela.org/2016/12/13/researchers-find-the-first-network-of-ancient-super-highways-in-the-world/


I am forced to mistrust everything I read here after the first sentence says "spear of influence" rather than sphere of influence.

Looks like they corrected it, Happy now ?

mor4les's picture

Although it is troubling that someone so educated lacks basic grammar skills, as is found in so many articules on this site, to dismiss the importance of these new findings based on a single misspelled word is truly disturbing. 

Leslie W. Jones

Extremism in judgement is the most powerful of actions holding back the expansion of knowledge. Don’t throw the Baby out with the Bath Water…

It would be like discrediting 300 real Artifacts found and a whole dig because one Geofact was cataloged as an Artifact by accident.

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