Monday, March 05, 2018

LIDAR Shows Purépecha Empire City Angamuco had as Many Buildings as Manhattan

When researchers surveyed the ruins of a Purépecha Empire city in Mexico the old-fashioned way a decade ago, it took them two seasons to explore two square kilometres. Good thing they decided to use LiDAR, because the city called Angamuco turned out bigger than they previously thought. LiDAR gave the researchers the power to see underneath the lava that covers Angamuco. Thanks to the laser technology, they now know that the city occupied 26 square kilometers of land instead of 13 square kilometers. Colorado State University archaeologist Chris Fisher is presenting that finding and all the latest info on his team's study at the ongoing American Association for the Advancement of Science conference in Austin.

"That is a huge area with a lot of people and a lot of architectural foundations that are represented," Fisher told The Guardian. According to their estimates, the city had around 1,500 structures per square kilometer of land. "If you do the maths," he added, "all of a sudden you are talking about 40,000 building foundations up there, which is [about] the same number of building foundations that are on the island of Manhattan." Further, LiDAR also led to the discovery that the city had an unusual layout, with big structures like pyramids and open plazas situated around the edges rather than in the center.

The Purépecha people existed at the same time as the Aztecs. While they are nowhere near as popular as their rivals, they were still a major civilization and had an imperial capital called Tzintzuntzan in western Mexico. Based on the team's LiDAR scans, though, Angamuco is even bigger Tzintzuntzan. It likely wasn't as densely populated, but Fisher said it's now the biggest city in western Mexico during that period that we know of.

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