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Plane-Mounted Lasers Map Mayan Ruins in Detailed 3-D

3-D Survey of Mayan Ruins
For archaeologists, the days of trudging through dense jungle to map out ancient sites by hand could soon be over. The New York Times reports that husband and wife team Dr. Arlen F. Chase and Dr. Diane Z. Chase recently used an Airborne Laser Terrain Mapper to provide 3-D images of ancient Mayan ruins in Caracol, Belize. "This will revolutionize the way we do settlement studies of the Maya," Dr. Arlen Chase told the Times.

Over the span of four days, a small airplane equipped with Light Detection and Ranging technology (LIDAR) flew over the roughly 70 square miles of ruins (the largest site mapped with LIDAR to date) more than 120 times. The aircraft bombarded the ground with mapping lasers powerful enough to penetrate the jungle, and collected the pulses that were reflected back from the surface. A GPS device working in concert with advanced computers gathered the data, which then rendered a 3-D map of the ruins and surrounding landscape.

Not only is this process much faster than mapping on foot, but it also allows archaeologists to get clear images of a site without damaging the ruins or landscape. Of course, this technology can't be used everywhere. Even powerful lasers can only penetrate so much vegetation, soil or rock. For deep treks, the best bet is still digging the old-fashioned way. [From: The New York Times]

Tags: 3D, airplane, archaeology, gps, laser, lasers, LIDAR, mapping, maps, research, top