Archaeological application of airborne LiDAR to examine social changes in the Ceibal region of the Maya lowlands

Takeshi Inomata, Daniela Triadan, Flory Pinzón, Melissa Burham, José Luis Ranchos, Kazuo Aoyama, Tsuyoshi Haraguchi

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41 Scopus citations


Although the application of LiDAR has made significant contributions to archaeology, LiDAR only provides a synchronic view of the current topography. An important challenge for researchers is to extract diachronic information over typically extensive LiDAR-surveyed areas in an efficient manner. By applying an architectural chronology obtained from intensive excavations at the site center and by complementing it with surface collection and test excavations in peripheral zones, we analyze LiDAR data over an area of 470 km2 to trace social changes through time in the Ceibal region, Guatemala, of the Maya lowlands. We refine estimates of structure counts and populations by applying commission and omission error rates calculated from the results of ground-truthing. Although the results of our study need to be tested and refined with additional research in the future, they provide an initial understanding of social processes over a wide area. Ceibal appears to have served as the only ceremonial complex in the region during the transition to sedentism at the beginning of the Middle Preclassic period (c. 1000 BC). As a more sedentary way of life was accepted during the late part of the Middle Preclassic period and the initial Late Preclassic period (600–300 BC), more ceremonial assemblages were constructed outside the Ceibal center, possibly symbolizing the local groups’ claim to surrounding agricultural lands. From the middle Late Preclassic to the initial Early Classic period (300 BC-AD 300), a significant number of pyramidal complexes were probably built. Their high concentration in the Ceibal center probably reflects increasing political centralization. After a demographic decline during the rest of the Early Classic period, the population in the Ceibal region reached the highest level during the Late and Terminal Classic periods, when dynastic rule was well established (AD 600–950).

Original languageEnglish (US)
Article numbere0191619
JournalPloS one
Issue number3
StatePublished - Mar 2018
Externally publishedYes

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • General


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