A recent press release from Colorado State University
Note to Reporters: Print-quality photos of LiDAR images of the research area and CSU assistant professor of geography Stephen Leisz are available with the news release at www.news.colostate.edu.
FORT COLLINS – Colorado State University professors Christopher Fisher and Stephen Leisz have partnered with an international team of researchers utilizing LiDAR technology to seek ancient settlements and human constructed landscapes in an area long rumored to contain the legendary city of Ciudad Blanca – the mythical “White City” – in Central America.
The project is a collaboration of the Global Heritage Foundation (GHF), UTL Productions, the National Center for Airborne Laser Mapping (NCALM), CSU, and the Honduran government. It is outlined in detail in the May 6 edition of The New Yorker.
Fisher, associate professor of archaeology, and Leisz, assistant professor of geography, have successfully worked with airborne LiDAR to help reveal a lost pre-Columbian city in central Mexico. LiDAR (Light Detection and Ranging) is a remote sensing technique used to examine the earth’s surface.
Researchers focused their search for evidence of ancient settlements in the Mosquitia Coast region of Central America. Until now, dense tropical forests and relative inaccessibility of the region have hampered systematic archaeological investigation.
LiDAR’s computer-generated images allow researchers to “see” through the forest canopy to the ground surface, revealing any evidence of ancient settlements or human-engineered landscapes.
“The LiDAR point cloud data clearly show the remains of large settlements that can be characterized as ancient cities based on their spatial complexity, size and organization,” Fisher said. “We may never be able to tell whether any of these are Ciudad Blanca, or whether the legendary city ever existed, but we can clearly see in the UTL data evidence that there was a densely settled region with a human modified environment. These conclusions provide important new insights into the pre-Hispanic settlement of this largely unexplored region.”
Interpretation of the LiDAR data suggests that the largest of these settlements is roughly the size of the central core of Copan, Honduras, though the architecture appears to be much less monumental. Copan was a Mayan city of nearly 20,000 people that thrived from the 5th through 9th centuries A.D.
Fisher and Leisz utilized LiDAR in recent research documenting the extent and spatial organization of the newly discovered ancient city of Angamuco, Michoacán, Mexico, as part of the Legacies of Resilience Archaeological Project, sponsored by the National Science Foundation, NASA, and the National Geographic Society. Fisher, Leisz and several co-authors championed the use of LiDAR in Mesoamerica in a recent article in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences as a scientific revolution that will fundamentally change the way that archaeologists do fieldwork.
“We were able to use our work at Angamuco to help reveal similar patterns in the Mosquitia data,” said Leisz. “The Honduras LiDAR results add to a growing number of studies using LiDAR point cloud-derived elevation data to analyze the ancient human impacts on the landscape of the Americas.”
Over the next several months Fisher, Leisz, and NCALM scientists will systematically analyze the Mosquitia data in preparation for fieldwork aimed at ground verification and documentation of the results as part of the broader GHF project. Leisz recently traveled to Honduras to sign a memorandum of understanding between CSU and GHF, as well as agreements of collaboration with The Honduran Institute of Anthropology and History (IHAH), and Porfirio Lobo, president of Honduras. Initial results from the project will be presented by Leisz and Fisher in a session on the use of LiDAR at the upcoming American Geophysical Union Meeting of the Americas, to be held May 14-17, in Cancun, Mexico.
In the El Dorado Machine, noted author Douglas Preston outlines the efforts to uncover traces of ancient civilization in the Mosquitia region of Honduras. The Legacies of Resilience Team, including Christopher Fisher and Stephen Leisz, have been involved in this effort. Check out the article here, which mentions the work at Angamuco and has a couple of quotes from Chris Fisher.
This animation shows the area of the Main Platform at Angamuco with and without the overlying vegetation. A static image of this view has been featured in many recent publications.
Increasingly archaeologists are finding themselves at the center of intensive local debates involving issues of access and ownership, looting, patrimony, local, regional, and national politics, and the nature of community engagement and collaboration.
Issues ranging from how community-based research initiatives can be constructed to the actual financial inputs and contributions of archaeological projects to local economies have become a focus of scholarly interest within the archaeological community.
Most major archaeological projects have some element of community outreach built into their research design – with many doing substantially more.
For those that know me – unsurprisingly probably – community outreach is not my forte. Though I realize the imperative of such programs I’m honestly not very good at talking to a non-academic audience.
Luckily for the project the LORE-LPB team is comprised of several talented graduate students and researchers who devoted considerable time and effort this season at better engaging the local community who own and use the land that Angamuco occupies. These students deserve major kudos for the work they have done in this regard for the 2013 field season.
Yesterday we were able to discuss some of our findings, talk about the nature of archaeology, and the role our research can play in better understanding the prehistory of Michoacán at a community event honoring Benito Juarez. I hope it is the first of many such activities.
It has been said more then once that a field crew runs on it’s stomach – the LORE-LPB 2013 field season is no exception. The theme this year seems to be hot food and animals!!
Casa 5128 – a Purépecha public building
Excavation is proceeding well at Casa 5128 – one of two areas currently under excavation. 5128 represents a large building that dominates a small neighborhood of residential and public architecture near one of the largest pyramid complexes at the ancient city.
Casa 5128 is constructed on a large platform of stone and rubble that served to flatten a small hill that forms one end of the complex. On top of this platform walls were constructed of uncut stacked stone with simple clay mortar. We started excavation by systematically clearing rubble and debris to expose the original exterior and interior. This also fully exposed the interior areas of the house so that they could be excavated. At the close of the excavation season the walls and platform of the house will be stabilized and reburied.
Excavation within the house interior shows a clear sequence of debris on top of a Late Postclassic floor (A.D. 1350-1520), with a second possible floor below containing a mixed Early-Middle Postclassic assemblage (A.D. 1000-1350). This is followed by fill and debris that form the platform itself.
As of today (03/21/2013) we have fully excavated the interior of the house and exposed the platform at the base of the floor-area. Now the hard part, mapping, drawing profiles, and making sure everything is fully documented prior to consolidation and reburial.
Cities form the core of modern society and a deeper understanding of the evolution of the urban form can potentially help to understand the modern world. One place that can make an important archaeological contribution to this debate is the Lake Pátzcuaro Basin, Michoacán, Mexico (LPB), which at the time of European contact was the core of the Late Postclassic (LPC) (A.D. 1350-1520) Purépecha Empire. This National Science Foundation award will fund a program of excavation at the newly discovered city of Angamuco to test models for the development of complex societies in the region. This project develops from over 3 years of NSF sponsored full-coverage survey (2009-2011) as part of the Legacies of Resilience: The Lake Pátzcauro Basin Archaeological Project (LORE-LPB). To test the models developed from this work researchers will excavate architectural complexes within two neighborhoods that, based on surface remains, had unique time and social associations.
Efforts will be focused on addressing three questions concerning the Angamuco occupation. 1) When was the predominate occupation of Angamuco and how does it relate to the development of complex societies in the region? 2) Can initial survey results concerning the function of individual structures and the spatial arrangement of these buildings be confirmed? Do domestic, public, storage, and ceremonial functions that inferred from surface remains conform with excavation data? 3) Can social differentiation be identified through excavation? If so, how does it evolve through time and how is this related to Empire formation.
Testing models that have been developed during the survey of Angamuco will substantially expand and deepen them and pave the way for future research. Results from this work will provide radiocarbon determinations that can help outline the timing, intensity, and location of the Angamuco occupation during the Postclassic. Stratigraphically dated assemblages from the Postclassic period will allow the creation of a more accurate ceramic chronology for this critical time interval. The refined temporal control will allow more accurately determination of the impact of Empire formation on the Angamuco polity.
The Angamuco case study can potentially yield important new insights into the development of complex societies in western Mexico, and in the process make an important contribution to anthropological understanding of the urban process. This is far from a simple academic debate in that global environmental change is increasingly placing urban dwellers at risk of increased poverty, displacement, and health risk.
The title of the post comes from a quote by Mark Twain – pretty smart individual!! Thanks to C. Wells for allowing the editorial.