Researchers discover a massive ceremonial structure of the ancient Mayans using lasers.
- Archaeologists used laser-based aerial surveys to discover the oldest and largest Mayan structure ever found.
- The 3,000-year-old complex in the Mexican state of Tabasco was likely used as a ceremonial center.
- Researchers believe the site represents a communal society rather than one based on worshipping elites.
The southern tip of Mexico is hiding a giant Mayan structure from about 3,000 years ago, new research shows. The nearly one mile-long monument may be the oldest and largest ever found from the mysterious civilization. An accomplishment of this magnitude is making scientists rethink what they know about the knowledge of the ancient Mayans.
The site, known as Aguada Fénix, was discovered in the state of Tabasco, near the Gulf of Mexico. The complex, likely used as a ceremonial center and a place of gathering, was essentially hiding under the feet of modern-day Mexicans who live above the massive structure. It's 4,600 feet (1,400 meters) long and likely dates to between 1000 and 800 BCE. That time period, specifically, the year 950 BCE, also produced another Mayan site, known as Ceibal, which was previously considered the oldest-ever ceremonial center.
While potentially being even older, Aguada Fénix is also much larger and incomparable to anything else from that time, concluded the archaeologists led by University of Arizona professors Takeshi Inomata and Daniela Triadan.
"To our knowledge, this is the oldest monumental construction ever found in the Maya area and the largest in the entire pre-Hispanic history of the region," the researchers wrote in their study.
The research uncovered the secret of Aguada Fénix, which looks like a natural landscape above, via aerial surveys using the remote sensing method LIDAR. The analysis, which had laser beams sent from planes through the thick canopy of trees, showed an elevated platform that's almost a mile (1,413 meters) north to south, a quarter-mile (399 meters) east to west, and as much as 33 to 50 feet (15 meters) high. The platform also has nine wide causeways leading away from it, as well as small structures and artificial reservoirs around it.
"Artificial plateaus may be characterised as horizontal monumentality, which contrasts with the vertical dimensions of pyramids," explained the archaeologists. They connect the look of Aguada Fénix with what is known as the Middle Formative Usumacinta (MFU) pattern, distinct for its rectangular shape and rows of low mounds.
Another interesting find relates to the lack of statues shaped like humans in the ancient settlement. The scientists think this points to the fact that the society that lived there had no "clear indicators of marked social inequality, such as sculptures representing high-status individuals." In fact, the only stone sculpture they discovered in the area was of an animal.
This type of social organization, which was possibly less hierarchical and more communal, would be in great difference to other ancient people who inhabited the region like the Olmec from the nearby state of Veracruz. Their culture is known to have produced colossal stone heads.
"This kind of understanding gives us important implications about human capability, and the potential of human groups," Inomata shared, adding "You may not necessarily need a well-organised government to carry out these kinds of huge projects. People can work together to achieve amazing results."
Check out the new paper "Monumental architecture at Aguada Fénix and the rise of Maya civilization" published in Nature.
Rather than one layer at a time, this method creates an entire object all at once, using lasers.
Imagine this, you see something online you just have to have, like a rugged smartphone case emblazoned with your favorite character. You order it and instead of waiting for it to be delivered, your 3D printer fashions it for you, to your exact specifications, in seconds. Why don’t we have this right now? 3D printers can take hours or even days to create an object, making such a scenario difficult to implement.
3D printers are still a new technology with a lot of potential. Think of the cost savings to the consumer (no shipping costs), the time saved to the producer (no need to ship things anywhere), and to the environment (saving on exhaust from trucks, planes, delivery vans, producing unsold items, and so on). Not only could it transform manufacturing but the research and development process as well. Making prototypes fast and easy would revolutionize engineering and design.
The potential is there. What’s holding up additive printing, as it’s sometimes called, is that it's time intensive and the device is limited as to what shapes it can produce. The model we have today adds only one layer at a time.
Lattice work on the millimeter scale, produced by a new 3D printer technique. Credit: Shusteff et al., Science Advances.
Scientists at the Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory, in California, have now come up with a novel technique that can make complex objects in mere seconds, by adding several layers simultaneously. The details are in a report in the journal Science Advances.
There are two really big innovations here. The first is using a fast drying, photosensitive resin, and the second is the unique way the lasers are employed. In traditional 3D printing, a powerful laser is used to harden the resin into plastic. Here, the printer follows a pattern set up by a 3D laser model. Creation takes place inside a tank full of liquid resin.
Three weak lasers are used, so the resin doesn’t cure. Instead, it creates a holographic effect, forming a 3D model of what’s to be made inside the tank. Anywhere where the three lasers are made to come together unites them into one strong beam, which hardens the resin. In this way, rather than one layer at a time, multiple layers can be fabricated at once by orchestrating the lasers into complex patterns. This method can allow for pinpoint accuracy.
Once the pattern is complete, the lasers harden the resin in seconds, and the unused liquid is drained away, leaving the finished product behind. The process works with metal as well. But it’s a little different. Here, the lasers arrange metal dust into a pattern. Once complete, the dust is condensed into a solid by a laser or electron beam.
Volumetric 3D printing and the objects scientists have made so far. Credit: Shusteff et al., Science Advances.
LLNL engineer Maxim Shusteff led the study. He told New Atlas, "The fact that you can do fully 3D parts all in one step really does overcome an important problem in additive manufacturing." Not only is the new technique faster and able to create a wider variety of shapes, it eliminates the need for support structures current 3D printers often need to fashion objects. In addition to lattices, beams, squares, and other structures, it could be used to make something complex with moving parts, like a gearbox. Another advantage, it can print multiple objects at once, such as a set of chess pieces.
The objects made via volumetric 3D printing, as the technique is being called, aren’t yet able to produce as sophisticated a product as some commercial 3D printers out there today. Really, this was a proof of concept study. But Shusteff and his team believe they can reach the same level of resolution with their process. Future models may use LEDs rather than a complicated laser array, as the latter is expensive. Also “laser speckle” or when a laser interferes with itself, can cause noise and result in surface roughness on printed objects.
So far, Shusteff and colleagues have made a few shapes on the millimeter scale. Though the amount of power needed may steer entities away from using this technique for heavy manufacturing, it would be useful for creating biomedical implants, which need to be flexible and yet high resolution. Another option could be bioprinting living tissue. “We’ve taken a really good first shot at this,” Shusteff said, “but we’ve not yet taken it to the limit of its performance, so the space is wide open for us and others to demonstrate what this approach is capable of.”
To see volumetric 3D printing in action, click here: