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(June 6, 2012) — A field team from the University of Houston and the National Science Foundation (NSF) National Center for Airborne Laser Mapping (NCALM) has mapped a remote region of Honduras that may contain the legendary lost city of Ciudad Blanca.
The results, recently announced by Honduras President Porfirio Lobo, mark the successful completion of the first light detection and ranging (LiDAR) survey of that country's Mosquitia region, one of the world's least-explored virgin rainforests.
During the Post-classic Period (900 - 1500 AD) there was a lot of movement of Mexicans to Central America because of conflicts in Mexico. Also, Honduras had many things which the people in Central Mexico would want. So there was an established trade route between Central Mexico and North Coast Honduras beginning in the Classic Period (300-900 AD). The first migration(s) of Mexican Indians to Central America are called Pipiles. This first migration was often influenced by a second migration of Toltecs in the Post Classic period (900-1500 AD).
But all too often, this good science is then hyped as if it was totally unprecedented, surprising, supposedly shattering all our previous ideas. So good science becomes bad archaeology.
Unfortunately for me and my colleagues in Honduran archaeology, the latest such incident is in our bailiwick. In mid-May, Spanish-language news sources in Honduras reported an announcement by the president of the country that LiDAR images had possibly revealed a “lost city”, Ciudad Blanca. One government official went so far as to say it “might be the biggest archaeological discovery in the world of the twenty-first century”.
Hurray! except that isn’t good archaeology — it’s hype.
Cinematographer Steve Elkins has announced that by using LiDAR (light detection and ranging), he discovered "what appears to be evidence of archaeological ruins in an area long rumoured to contain the legendary lost city of Ciudad Blanca." The phrasing "lost city" is problematic, however: it's hard to lose a city when the city itself is a myth.
Although Professor Joyce makes a good case for the utility of her profession's exacting standards, she also comes close to dismissing the technology involved. "LiDAR can produce images of landscapes faster than people walking the same area, and with more detail. But that is not good archaeology, because all it produces is a discovery-not knowledge," she wrote. "If it's a competition, then I will bet my money on people doing ground survey. And I will be betting less money: LiDAR is expensive. And I question the value you get for the money it costs."
Fisher and the Chase, who have used the technology, have made the case for LiDAR marking a "tipping point" in archaeology. They contend that it is far from just another technology, subordinate to the tyranny of pick and shovel. And if archaeologists can find more in four days of LiDAR flyovers than they could in 25 years on the ground, as Chase asserted, it is demonstrably cheaper.
Flying Lasers Reveal Buried Historical Structures
By Markus Becker
The Glauberg is a hot spot for archaeologists. For decades, researchers have been studying the hill in the central German state of Hesse, where people settled some 7,000 years ago.
Over the millennia, the plateau was inhabited by Celts and Alemanni and, in the Middle Ages, people there built castles that reached for the sky. Accordingly, researchers have found plenty of artifacts. In 1996, they made the sensational discovery of an almost perfectly preserved statue of a Celtic warrior, which is now known as the Celtic Prince of Glauberg.
The researchers were fairly stunned by what the remote-sensing technology turned up on the Glauberg. At first glance, they recognized around a dozen potential burial mounds that they hadn't known about before. "We went and took a closer look at five of them," says Axel Posluschny. "They were all burial mounds."
The Boyne Valley in Ireland, for example, contains three prehistoric monuments that are part of the Brú na Bóinne UNESCO World Heritage Site . A team with the Irish research project "Discovery Programme" scanned the already heavily researched area with lasers, finding a number of small mounds, possible burial tombs and Stone Age earthworks. The map was practically filled with points of potential archaeological interest.
Lidar technology has also allowed archaeologists to make surprising discoveries in more obscure locations. For example, in a forest near Göppingen, in the southwestern German state of Baden-Württemberg, they have found an entire system of fortifications that by no means buried or invisible at ground level. "The wall was 3- to 4-meters-high at some points," says Jörg Bofinger, an official from the state's Stuttgart-based office of historical preservation. "No one had this construction on their radar. It was completely unknown." What's more, that was the case even though the state has been systematically taking aerial images since the beginning of the 1980s. "It's unbelievable that something like this would slip past us," Bofinger says.
The way laser mapping works is similar to the way doctors use x-rays to peer inside a patient’s body. In this case, archaeologists from the University of Houston used a technology called Light Detection And Ranging (LiDAR) in which a laser-equipped plane is flown over a specified region to scan for surface objects hidden beneath the cover of vegetation. Since the optical pulses can accurately measure the distance to its intended target down to the scale of a few inches, what has emerged is a detailed 3-D map of a site that appears to be man-made.
So even though none of the researchers have yet to excavate the site or even set foot in the city, all this probing from afar has already revealed “a large central plaza with a major pyramid at one end, smaller pyramids nearby and the remains of other structures around the plaza,” the Los Angeles Times reports.
While a full excavation is still needed to determine whether the features of these ruins actually do resemble what’s been described as the land where residents “ate from plates made of gold,” the finding is significant in that it’s just the latest example of how smarter technologies are revolutionizing the field of archeology..........