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Researchers using an aerial mapping technique known as LiDAR have found previously undetected Mayan defense works, irrigation channels and the remains of tens of thousands of structures in the dense woodlands and jungles of Guatemala's Peten region.

Archeologists trust the front line innovation will alter the way people see Mayans' old civilization because of this is one of the best discoveries in the last 150 years of research about Mayans. Their findings show that the region's pre-Columbian civilization was "far more complex and interconnected than most Maya specialists had supposed", according to National Geographic. Previous estimates put the Mayan people's population at around 5 million, but now it's possible that there were 10 to 15 million of them. This is an impressive feat for a civilization that is assumed to have never used the wheel or beasts of burden. The findings and the technology behind them - LiDAR (light detection and ranging) - will be the focus of a new National Geographic documentary to premiere on February 6 at 9 p.m. EST titled "Lost Treasures of the Maya Snake King". The highly accurate measurements from millions of laser pulses are used to produce a detailed three-dimensional image of the ground surface topography.

The survey is part of a three-year project spearheaded by Guatemala's Foundation for Maya Cultural and Natural Heritage (PACUNAM).

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The 810 square miles (2,100 square kilometers) of mapping done vastly expands the area that was intensively occupied by the Maya, whose culture flourished between roughly 1,000 BC and 900 AD.

But as remarkable as the discovery is, it's just the first phase of a larger project to map much of Guatemala.

Stephen Houston, Professor of Archaeology and Anthropology at Brown University, called the magnitude of the recent survey "breathtaking" and said that the images produced "did bring tears to my eyes". Researchers have long known that Mayan settlements were present in the area, but the massive scale of the cities that were once teeming with activity was hugely miscalculated. Now researchers have discovered lost cities and structures near a Guatemalan jungle using the same cutting-edge technology.