Like radar, but with light instead of radio waves, lidar technology shoots laser pulses in front or below and measures the time it takes for them to bounce back, creating 3D maps in the process. Its best-known use may be in collision-avoidance for semi- and fully-autonomous vehicles, but it’s also employed to literally get the lay of the land, even when the lay is thousands of years old. Archaeologists from Ithaca College flew lidar-equipped planes over Guatemala recently with the aim of getting a better picture of ancient Mayan civilization. The results, published late last month in Science, were astounding. Lidar revealed new structures, highways, and waterways that had long been covered in vegetation, and offered up some new population estimates: 7 to 11 million people lived in this area between 650 A.D. and 800 A.D.
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