Ancient Civilization Structures With Cosmic Significance Discovered Beneath Mexico

Researchers have discovered nearly 500 ceremonial complexes in Mexico, and they are thought to have been of cosmic importance to Mesoamerican civilizations over 2,000 years ago.

The hundreds of sites were discovered using publicly available LIDAR data collected by the Mexican government.

LIDAR, which stands for Light Detection and Ranging, is a mapping technique that uses a laser to peer at the environment and create a 3D map of it.

Since LIDAR is capable of piercing through trees and vegetation, it can reveal hidden archaeological features.

Using the data, researchers from the University of Arizona and other institutions found a total of 478 historic complexes shaped like squares and rectangles in the Mexican states of Tabasco and Veracruz.

It is thought they were constructed by diverse groups between 1,050 BC and 400 BC, placing them well before the peak of the Maya civilization between 250 and 950 AD, according to a University of Arizona press release.

The work was published in the journal Nature Human Behaviour on October 25.

Researchers think that the sites were used in ritual gatherings and, based on they way they are facing, many seem to be aligned with the sunrise of a certain date.

"There are lots of exceptions; for example, not every site has enough space to place the rectangular form in a desired direction, but when they can, they seem to have chosen certain dates," said Takeshi Inomata, University of Arizona anthropology professor and lead author of the study in a press release.

One theory is that the certain date in question was the Zenith passage day—a day in which the sun passes directly overhead, meaning no person or object casts any shadow for a while. The date of the Zenith passage day depends on one's location.

The number 20 appears to keep showing up in the constructions as well—thought to be a significant figure in Mesoamerican calendars.

"This means that they were representing cosmological ideas through these ceremonial spaces," Inomata added.

There is another intriguing element to the find as well. The researchers found that the complexes share features with San Lorenzo—the oldest-known city of the Olmec culture.

They now think that San Lorenzo might have influenced later constructions like the huge Aguada Fénix site discovered last year. Aguada Fénix was a Mayan construction.

The work shows that "San Lorenzo is very similar to Aguada Fénix," Inomata said in a press release. "This tells us that San Lorenzo is very important for the beginning of some of these ideas that were later used by the Maya."

The study states: "These observations highlight the legacy of San Lorenzo and the critical role of inter-regional interaction."

A Mayan structure
A photo of a Mayan structure—not the ones uncovered in the study above—in Uxmal, Mexico. Mayan and Olmec cultures are both examples of Mesoamerican history. Photo Beto/Getty