Ancient Mayan city discovered in Guatemala

Archaeologists have used modern technology to uncover an ancient Mayan city buried deep in the jungles of Guatemala. More than two millennia ago, the city was home to 2000 people, but in the centuries since it was abandoned, it has been reclaimed by the jungle, and now sits beneath several feet of dirt and plant life. It is for that reason that it has remained undiscovered for so long.

The city, known as Holtun, was completely unknown to archaeologists until the 1990’s. It was at that time that they trailed treasure hunters and looters to the region for the first time. But because of the thick jungle growth, they didn’t even recognize that a city once existed at the site, although the locals were aware that something large was hidden there.

Recently, researchers used a combination of satellite imagery, GPS coordinates, and 3D mapping software to explore the area, and what they discovered was startling. The decidedly 21st century technology was able to help them identify more than 100 buildings, including several homes, a sports arena, an astronomical observatory, and a pyramid that is more than seven stories in height. The structures are believed to date back to between 600 and 300 BC.

For now, the site remains shrouded in mystery and covered by the dense Guatemalan rainforest. But this summer, the archaeology team that discovered Holtun hopes to begin the painstakingly slow excavation process that will roll back centuries of jungle growth that have consumed the city. When they do, they will have the opportunity to get a glimpse of what life was like in Mayan city more than 2000 years ago.

Stories like these never cease to fascinate me. I’m always amazed that we can still find such great archaeological discoveries in this day and age. It truly makes you wonder what else is out there, hidden in plain sight, just waiting for us to stumble across it.

[Photo courtesy Michael G. Callaghan]