Researchers have found more than 60,000 hidden Maya ruins in Guatemala in a major archaeological breakthrough.
Laser technology was used to survey digitally beneath the forest canopy, revealing houses, palaces, elevated highways, and defensive fortifications.
The landscape, near already-known Maya cities, is thought to have been home to millions more people than other research had previously suggested.
The researchers mapped over 810 square miles (2,100 sq km) in northern Peten.
Archaeologists believe the cutting-edge technology will change the way the world will see the Maya civilisation.
"I think this is one of the greatest advances in over 150 years of Maya archaeology," said Stephen Houston, Professor of Archaeology and Anthropology at Brown University.
Mr Houston told the BBC that after decades of work in the archaeological field, he found the magnitude of the recent survey "breathtaking". He added, "I know it sounds hyperbolic but when I saw the [Lidar] imagery, it did bring tears to my eyes."
Results from the research using Lidar technology, which is short for "light detection and ranging", suggest that Central America supported an advanced civilisation more akin to sophisticated cultures like ancient Greece or China.
"Everything is turned on its head," Ithaca College archaeologist Thomas Garrison told the BBC.
He believes the scale and population density has been "grossly underestimated and could in fact be three or four times greater than previously thought".
The group of scholars who worked on this project used Lidar to digitally remove the dense tree canopy to create a 3D map of what is really under the surface of the now-uninhabited Guatemalan rainforest.
"Lidar is revolutionising archaeology the way the Hubble Space Telescope revolutionised astronomy," Francisco Estrada-Belli, a Tulane University archaeologist, told National Geographic. "We'll need 100 years to go through all [the data] and really understand what we're seeing."
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Experts discover hidden ancient Maya structures
Experts using an aerial high-tech laser scanner have discovered thousands of ancient Maya structures hidden under the thick jungle of northern Guatemala, officials said Thursday.
Some 60,000 structures were found over the past two years in a scan of a region in the northern department of El Peten, which borders Mexico and Belize, said Marcello Canuto, one of the project’s top investigators.
These findings are a “revolution in Maya archeology,” Canuto said.
The new discoveries in this Central American country include urban centers with sidewalks, homes, terraces, ceremonial centers, irrigation canals and fortifications, said Canuto, an archaeologist at Tulane University in the United States. Among the finds was a 30-meter high pyramid that had been earlier identified as a natural hill in Tikal, Guatemala’s premier archaeological site. Also discovered in Tikal: a series of pits and a 14 kilometer-long wall.
The Maya civilization reached its height in what is present-day southern Mexico, Guatemala, and parts of Belize, El Salvador and Honduras between 250 and 950 CE. Researchers now believe that the Maya had a population of 10 million, which is “much higher” than previous estimates, Canuto said.