Using lidar and other remote sensing to study ancient Maya wetland management

Authors: Christopher Carr*, University of Cincinnati, Nicholas Dunning, University of CIncinnati, Thomas Ruhl, University of Cincinnati
Topics: Water Resources and Hydrology, Remote Sensing, Latin America
Keywords: Ancient Maya, lidar, wetlands, karst areas
Session Type: Paper
Day: 4/5/2019
Start / End Time: 9:55 AM / 11:35 AM
Room: Marshall North, Marriott, Mezzanine Level
Presentation File: No File Uploaded

The ancient Maya thrived for several thousand years, building great cities, independently inventing writing, and making great art. They succeeded despite a very challenging water regime- five months of the year with excess rainfall, five months with almost no rainfall. And this in a karst landscape with very little surface water. In upland swampy areas (known as polje or bajo) they collected water for the dry season in constructed reservoirs (aguadas). In lowland swampy areas they drained water to open agricultural lands. In both cases, the modern difficulty of access to the swampy areas limits on-the-ground survey, especially on the landscape level. The proliferation of remote sensing tools, especially airborne lidar, has revolutionized the study of wetlands in tropical areas. This paper will present our preliminary study of wetland fields in the perennial wetlands around Laguna de Terminos, and in the seasonal wetlands of Yaxnohcah, both in southern Campeche, Mexico. The lidar data allows us to model water flow on a landscape level giving us hints of the ancient Maya engineering strategies. The lidar data allows us to plan on-the-ground reconnaissance survey and excavation, and to efficiently navigate to those places through the swampy areas.

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