In a matter of days, a lidar device mounted on a Cessna can discover archaeological sites that would otherwise require years of research to locate


An August 16, 2013 Globe and Mail article describes the discovery of an ancient city in Cambodia.

A Jan. 3, 2014 National Geographic article is entitled: “‘Lost’ New England Revealed by High-Tech Archaeology.” The article notes: “New England’s woody hills and dales hide a secret—they weren’t always forested. Instead, many were once covered with colonial roads and farmsteads.”

The article adds: “With LiDAR we can actually do area surveys that show comprehensively what was once there, not just what has turned up randomly over time. A lot of people don’t realize that there has been a lost cultural frontier in New England that we are only discovering now.”

A Feb. 19, 2014 Globe and Mail article is entitled: “Erosion swallowing up PEI at rate of 28 centimetres a year.”

A Jan. 1, 2017 New Yorker article is entitled: “An ancient city emerges in a remote rain forest.” A negative review, about the book from which the article is excerpted, is entitled: “Review of ‘Lost City of the Monkey God’ by Douglas Preston.”



In a previous blog post, I’ve noted that stories about forests – such as in Honduras and Nicaragua as encountered in an article the May 6, 2013 print edition of the New Yorker – are enduring sources of fascination for me.

I’ve read the above-noted  New Yorker story because I purchased a printed copy of the May 6, 2013 issue of the magazine.

The article describes a $1-million-dollar lidar device, mounted on a small Cessna airplane, that is able to discover archaeological sites in rain forests that would otherwise require many years of archaeological research to locate on the ground.

The New Yorker article, by Douglas Preston, notes that the lidar uses a light-detection and ranging technology to develop digital imagery based on built forms located on the ground, visible to the device even under the canopy of a rain forest.

Lidar is an uncapitalized acronym derived from the words “light-detection and ranging.”

The device has, according to the article, enabled the discovery of what appear to be several major, historically significant archaeological sites in the rain forests of Moqsuitia, which cover over thirty-two thousand square miles of Honduras and Nicaragua.

“The lidar data are all we might have left”

The article concludes with a remark that in June 2012, the Honduran government established a protected zone encompassing three archaeological sites discovered using the lidar device.

Enforcement of the protection is weak, however, as the rain forest is the subject of extensive and profitable illegal logging.

By the time archaeologists actually reach each of the newly discovered sites on the ground, the rain forest in the area may have been “clear-cut and burned, and its archaeological sites exposed to looting and destruction.”

In the concluding sentence of the article, an archaeologist named Christopher Fisher, a Mesoamerican specialist at Colorado State University, remarks: “The lidar data are all we might have left.”

August 16, 2013 update (see beginning of this post), continued

An excerpt from the August 16, 2013 Globe and Mail article referred to at the beginning of this post reads:

  • Then he was approached by the Indonesian arm of Vancouver-based engineering, surveying and mapping firm McElhanney. The company offered him the use of lidar, a laser tool that succeeded in uncovering archeological sites in Central America, at cost.
  • Similar to radar, lidar can measure subtle differences in surface elevation by emitting hundreds of thousands of laser pulses per second, then calculating the time it takes them to return. When combined with GPS technology, lidar data can be used to create detailed topographical maps.


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