Archaeologists have been unearthing pyramids, plazas and hundreds of carved monuments in southern Mexico’s Izapa Kingdom since the 1940s, but it wasn’t until recently that they confirmed Izapa wasn’t a standalone city.
Over 40 smaller suburban-style towns and once-hidden monuments that surrounded the capital have been discovered recently, and each of the settlements had a similar blueprint to that of Izapa.
“The consistency is remarkable,” said SUNY Albany archaeologist Robert Rosenswig, who co-authored the study. “This is a tremendous amount of coordination within the kingdom.”
Rosenswig and his team wanted to further understand the Izapa Kingdom outside the capital, so they began surveying the area with Light Detection and Ranging (LIDAR).
LIDAR is a remote-sensing system that uses rapid light bursts to map the surface by measuring how long the signal takes to bounce back. With improved technology, LIDAR surveys have become popular among archaeologists, often using scans from planes or drones. The scans can pass through vegetation and record roads, canals or other man-made features and generate three-dimensional information about the shape of the Earth, according to NOAA.
One of Rosenswig’s initial surveys spanned about 20 square miles near Izapa, which revealed nine small towns. From there, he widened the area to 225 square miles, comparable to the size of cities like Chicago and Tuscon, Arizona.
In that area, the team found 41 settlements which varied in size within some 13 miles of Izapa. The three largest towns were plotted around the perimeter of the kingdom, likely an effort to protect from outside districts. Some carvings found in Izapa depicted violence, suggesting conflict with outside kingdoms.
“We knew that Izapa was a major site of monumental scale, but this article provides tangible evidence about the hinterland settlements in the region,” said Yale archaeologist Oswaldo Chinchilla.
While none of the three perimeter settlements have been excavated, Rosenswig’s team believes artifacts and carvings from the sites could offer more insight to relationships between towns in Izapa.
A settlement where surveys have alluded to large stone sculptures underground will be their next project, Rosenswig said.
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Journal of Antiquity / Cambridge – Lidar reveals the entire kingdom of Izapa during the first millennium BC