Decoding the Palimpsest: Methods for Regional Chronology Building in Neotropical Landscapes Surveyed with Lidar

Authors: Thomas Garrison*, University of Texas At Austin, J. Dennis Baldwin, University of Texas at Austin, Anna Bishop, University of California, Los Angeles, Rafael Cambranes, Universidad de San Carlos, Guatemala
Topics: Field Methods, Remote Sensing, Middle America
Keywords: neotropical landscapes, Maya, lidar, chronology
Session Type: Virtual Paper
Day: 4/11/2021
Start / End Time: 8:00 AM / 9:15 AM
Room: Virtual 36
Presentation File: No File Uploaded


The wealth of new settlement and environmental data provided by large-scale lidar surveys of neotropical landscapes requires new field methodologies that maximize the value of the technology while also recognizing its limits. Data from the 2016 Pacunam LiDAR Initiative around the Classic kingdom of El Zotz, Guatemala cover a range of microenvironments, two major archaeological sites, five minor centers, and thousands of structures. The earliest occupation in this region likely dates to the Archaic period, with architectural remains of the Preclassic Maya evidenced as far back as 800 BC. The region was abandoned by the Postclassic Maya around AD 1300. Over two thousand years of occupation, modification, and exploitation left a palimpsest imprinted in digital lidar data, leaving the visual impression of a landscape that was intensively exploited. However, the reality is that this technology has captured the accretive impact of human settlement. As such, methodologies must be designed to extract the sequences of use, growth, transformation, and abandonment that characterize past human impacts. This study presents methods for collecting, processing, and visualizing regional chronological data as a part of ground-truthing efforts as a first attempt to establish more accurate regional chronologies in the face of thousands of new cultural features revealed by lidar surveys. A refined sequence for an approximately 50 km2 area of the San Miguel la Palotada Biotope is given in the hopes that it will provide a broader context for the causal role humans may have played in environmental changes documented in the local paleoenvironmental record.

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