Geospatial revolution and remote sensing LiDAR in Mesoamerican archaeology

Proc Natl Acad Sci U S A. 2012 Aug 7;109(32):12916-21. doi: 10.1073/pnas.1205198109. Epub 2012 Jul 16.


The application of light detection and ranging (LiDAR), a laser-based remote-sensing technology that is capable of penetrating overlying vegetation and forest canopies, is generating a fundamental shift in Mesoamerican archaeology and has the potential to transform research in forested areas world-wide. Much as radiocarbon dating that half a century ago moved archaeology forward by grounding archaeological remains in time, LiDAR is proving to be a catalyst for an improved spatial understanding of the past. With LiDAR, ancient societies can be contextualized within a fully defined landscape. Interpretations about the scale and organization of densely forested sites no longer are constrained by sample size, as they were when mapping required laborious on-ground survey. The ability to articulate ancient landscapes fully permits a better understanding of the complexity of ancient Mesoamerican urbanism and also aids in modern conservation efforts. The importance of this geospatial innovation is demonstrated with newly acquired LiDAR data from the archaeological sites of Caracol, Cayo, Belize and Angamuco, Michoacán, Mexico. These data illustrate the potential of technology to act as a catalytic enabler of rapid transformational change in archaeological research and interpretation and also underscore the value of on-the-ground archaeological investigation in validating and contextualizing results.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't
  • Research Support, U.S. Gov't, Non-P.H.S.

MeSH terms

  • Archaeology / methods*
  • Archaeology / trends*
  • Belize
  • Geography / methods*
  • Lasers*
  • Mexico
  • Remote Sensing Technology / methods*