Ancient Maya citadel discovered in Belize is an anomaly

Many centuries ago on the border of Belize and Guatemala, Maya people built a large city surrounded by a cultivated jungle garden that was home to around 20,000 people, which archaeologists call El Pilar. They had large structures, including palaces and pyramids, and paved their plazas in lime plaster to divert rainwater into reservoirs. Archaeologists using lasers from the air have recently identified a fortress-like structure nearby covered by vegetation.

Using LiDAR laser technology from a helicopter for Light Detection and Ranging, archaeologists have identified a citadel-type structure now forested over in the ancient Maya city of El Pilar in Belize. Though a team of archaeologists has been studying the ruins for more than 20 years, this fortress 600 meters (656 yards) away from the edge of the main town was unknown until they started using LiDAR to study the landscape a couple of years ago.

The Maya began building monumental structures at El Pilar about 800 BC. The ruins of the stone buildings are largely covered over by forest except a house called the Hummingbird. Archaeologists have been allowing the ruins to stay forested over to preserve them while carefully digging and exposing structures in limited areas.

Archaeologists working at the site are trying to gain an understanding of the lives of the everyday people, as opposed to the elites and rulers. One fact they’ve discovered at El Pilar is that the residents fed themselves in part through what is called “forest garden” agriculture, where the forest itself is cultivated.

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