Deep within a rainforest in Belize, scientists using lasers beamed from an airplane to peer beneath the dense foliage have discovered evidence of a vast network of ancient Maya farms that date back thousands of years, NBC News reports.
The findings, part of more than 20 years of research in this part of Central America, show how the ancient Maya civilization, which reached its peak at around 250 A.D. to 900 A.D., adapted their farming practices in the face of environmental challenges.
The farms were used to grow maize, beans, squash and avocados, most likely after a series of droughts starting 1,800 years ago forced Maya farmers to expand agriculture from the region’s dry slopes into the forest’s low-lying wetlands, said Tim Beach, a University of Texas geoarchaeologist and the lead author of a paper about the finding published Oct. 7 in the journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.
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“The lines of evidence suggest the wetland fields were starting as early as 2,000 years ago, and really exploding around 1,200 years ago,” Beach said. “If the uplands are dry, we speculated that this would be a natural place to expand into for a resilient culture.”