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Archaeologists uncover massive network of Mayan ruins with laser technology

Laser tech uncovers more Mayan ruins
Laser tech uncovers more Mayan ruins 03:10

Archaeologists are using high-tech mapping technology to virtually unearth a massive network of Mayan ruins hidden for centuries in the thick jungles of Guatemala, reports CBS News correspondent David Begnaud. Albert Lin is an engineer and National Geographic explorer who worked on a television special about the breakthrough.

"So we have this augmented reality platform built based off of the LiDAR data. ... And it says there's a massive temple just around the corner," Lin said in the special, referring to Light Detection and Ranging, the technology used to uncover the ruins. "Ah, it gives you like chills up your back!" 

The uncovered landscape includes previously unknown cities and more than 60,000 interconnected structures including houses, farms, highways and even pyramids. Scientists and archaeologists discovered the ancient ruins by shooting lasers down from a plane to penetrate the dense jungle canopy.

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Marianne Hernandez is president of PACUNAM, the Guatemalan nonprofit that started the project to uncover more of the Mayan civilization. 

"This will provide empirical proof of the sophistication and complexity of their settlement systems," Hernandez said.

Francisco Estrada-Belli is co-director of the PACUNAM project. He said LiDAR technology is revolutionizing archaeology like the Hubble telescope revolutionized astronomy.

"When they started looking at, through that telescope… they found thousands of galaxies. And that's what we're seeing," Estrada-Belli said. "Part of the jungle we thought were empty are full of cities and small towns and amazing things that we didn't suspect were there."

Previous assessments estimated just 1 or 2 million people lived in the Maya lowlands. But researchers now believe as many as 20 million people may have lived there.

You can watch "Lost Treasures of the Maya Snake Kings" this Tuesday on National Geographic.

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