Archaeologists from the National Institute of Anthropology and History (INAH) have recently made an exciting discovery in the dense forests of the Balamkú Ecological Reserve in the Mexican state of Campeche.
Through the use of high-resolution photography and LiDAR, they have uncovered a previously unknown Maya city called Ocomtún, meaning “stone column” in the Mayan language. The city covers an area of approximately 123.5 acres and dates mainly from the Classic Period (250-1000 CE).
The survey project employed Light Detection and Ranging (LiDAR) technology, which uses pulsed laser light to measure ranges to the Earth’s surface, creating a 3-D digital map of the landscape.
This method allowed archaeologists to penetrate the dense tree canopies and reveal the hidden features of the city.
The site, located on a peninsula surrounded by wetlands, contains a nucleus of pre-Hispanic structures, including pyramidal structures over 15 meters in height, plazas, elongated structures arranged in a concentric circle plan, and evidence of a ball game court. The discovery also includes an 80-meter-long rectangular acropolis and a 25-meter-high pyramid.
The city of Ocomtún played a significant role during the Classic Period and underwent alterations in the Terminal Classic period (800-1000 CE), with the construction of shrines, terraces, and plazas used for ceremonial rituals.
However, by the 10th century CE, the population declined, and the site was eventually abandoned, coinciding with the Maya collapse, a period marked by the abandonment of numerous Maya cities in the southern Maya lowlands.
This newly discovered city adds to the growing body of knowledge about the Maya civilization. The Maya were renowned for their advancements in architecture, culture, calendar systems, mathematics, and more. They dominated Mesoamerica, encompassing parts of modern Mexico, Guatemala, and Belize.
The civilization experienced a major collapse during the 9th century CE, likely caused by a combination of factors such as civil war, drought, and environmental degradation.
The dense jungles of the Yucatan Peninsula have long concealed the secrets of ancient Maya cities, but with the help of LiDAR, more of these settlements are being brought to light. In addition to aerial surveys, on-ground excavations are also being carried out to recover artifacts and gain further insights into the lives of the Maya people.
The significance of Ocomtún lies not only in its architectural features but also in its cultural and historical importance.
Future research, including the analysis of ceramic fragments found at the site, will contribute to our understanding of the time period in which the city thrived.
The use of advanced technologies, like LiDAR, has proven invaluable in uncovering hidden archaeological sites, allowing us to piece together the rich history of ancient civilizations such as the Maya.