Archaeological finds are some of the most interesting and informative discoveries that we as a society can make. They reveal to us worlds that are now forgotten and give us insight into how people once lived. Most archeological finds take a substantial amount of time to produce, even when a scientist uses all of his knowledge regarding the subject. These searches often generate nothing but shards of pottery or a few bricks. However, some archeological finds are so groundbreaking that they change the way other archaeological sites are found. Bill Saturno, an assistant professor of anthropology at the University of New Hampshire, happened upon one archeological discovery that is changing the way remote sensing is used in jungles forever.
The serendipity that revealed a 2000-year-old wall of Mayan art occurred while Saturno was trekking through the jungles of Guatemala with a crew of scientists and guides. He found himself and his team lost in the jungles, as they stumbled upon the ruins of San Bartolo. Saturno was exhausted from the heat of the day, so a tour guide looked for some native fruit for him to eat. Saturno found an opening that had previously been opened by looters and ventured inside to escape the heat of the sun. He went into the darkness of the opening and sat as he tried to regain his energy. While in the cavern, he looked up to find an ancient wall of Mayan artwork. The depiction told the story of Mayan creationism, and the discovery has been paralleled with finding a Christian bible from the time of Jesus Christ. For thousands of years, this chamber went unseen by the archeological community in the jungles of Guatemala. According to the MSNBC article, Lost Cities Seen From Space, lost places such as these were “hidden almost literally right under their noses”. Up until this discovery, finding temples and cities by accident was common of archeological finds in the jungle, but this particular discovery led to something more.
After Saturno made his archaeological find, he contacted Tom Sever, who works for NASA preparing maps. Sever sent maps of the Bartolo area to Saturno and what he found was of great significance. Upon studying the maps, “Saturno bought into the idea that remote sensing from space could reveal ruins that could not be seen at ground level” (Lost Cities). He noticed that the ruins showed up as a lighter green on the map than the surrounding canopy. Saturno theorized that perhaps the lighter spots indicated ancient ruins. His explanation of the theory was that the ancient Maya built their temples out of limestone, but over thousands of years the limestone seeped into the earth. The vegetation then grew from the limestone-enriched soil, which made the chlorophyll glow brightly on the infrared map. When Saturno and Sever journeyed together to test this theory, the maps were extremely accurate each time. At every brightly colored patch they traveled to, there lay Mayan ruins.
While the discoveries were impressive, this method of exploration by satellite imagery is not unheard of. In the environmental science field, it is called remote sensing. An already astounding archeological find turned out to present a new way of using this remote sensing. Discoveries of this magnitude have the ability to change the way we discover the hidden mysteries of our world, and if it were not for Saturno’s dehydration, this technological advance may have never taken place.
Boyle, Alan . “Lost Cities Seen From Space.” MSNBC. 5 Jan. 2007. 26 Sep. 2009.
. “Maya.” NOVA Science Now. Jan. 2007. 22 Sep. 2009.