Monday, October 23, 2017

Roads and Highways

The Book of Mormon describes roads 3 Nephi 6:8 and highways Helaman 7:10, 14:24, 3 Nephi 8:13 about the time of Christ. We now have spectacular evidence of roads and highways in Mesoamerica about the time of Christ.
Mirador LiDAR Image
LiDAR is an acronym for Light Detection and Ranging. This remote sensing technology uses a small plane that flies in a grid pattern over a target area. The plane carries laser equipment that fires 560,000 bursts per second and builds a massive point cloud of data. Hours of processing on a supercomputer then render a topographic image that can help a researcher identify man-made objects buried beneath a jungle canopy or other ground cover. Combining 2D and 3D images creates highly accurate maps of otherwise hidden features. LiDAR is very expensive. In Guatemala's Mirador Basin, Richard Hansen used 38 hours of flying time and surveyed 700 square kilometers at a cost in excess of $500,000. Because it can show archaeologists exactly where to dig, hopefully before looters destroy a new site, LiDAR is a coveted technology in the profession.

Mirador Basin Causeway from the Air
Hansen is a BYU graduate who got his PhD at UCLA. 34 universities from several countries currently collaborate on his massive Mirador Basin Project which has an annual budget in the $2 - 3 million range. It may be the largest archaeology project on earth. I visited El Mirador in January, 2016. I went in via helicopter. The alternative was a 3 day hike or mule ride from the nearest town with a road. Today El Mirador is remote. At the time of Christ, though, it was a busy center connected to neighboring sites via an extensive network of limestone roads (called sacbes in Mayan).

Hansen's survey revealed 240 kilometers of roadways connecting 17 different ancient communities. Up to 40 meters wide, 6 meters thick, and 38 kilometers long, these massive public works projects linked the 200,000 - 250,000 people living in El Mirador with the estimated 1 million people in the surrounding areas. The earliest roads were built ca. 600 BC. The latest were built ca. AD 100. El Mirador achieved apogee ca. 90 BC and was abandoned ca. AD 150. See this Smithsonian article published February 3, 2017.

This poorly-done but informative YouTube video shows Hansen atop one of the Mirador roadways.

Ancient feedlots or stockyards may also have existed at El Mirador. See the article "Flocks and Herds."