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Archaeologists discover an ancient Mayan 'megalopolis' hidden in a Central American jungle

Laser-toting archaeologists have discovered an entire new city in the Central American jungle.

National Geographic reported Thursday that researchers have uncovered proof that Mayan civilization was far more advanced than previously thought. Using laser-created scans of the jungles in northern Guatemala, researchers "digitally removed the tree canopy" from images of the area, National Geographic explained. The editing — made possible by a technology called LiDAR, which scans pictures taken at a birds'-eye view — allowed researchers to peer beneath the dense fauna.

The result was the discovery that the jungles were concealing a Mayan "megalopolis" in their shadows. Underneath the leaves, researchers found more than 60,000 structures that were previously unknown, including "houses, palaces, [and] elevated highways," National Geographic reported. The structures likely created a series of connected cities.

The new discovery prompted the researchers to revise up previous calculations of the Mayan population. Scientists have long estimated that Mayan civilization had about 5 million inhabitants, but one archaeologist said the LiDAR findings indicate that number is way too low: "With this new data it's no longer unreasonable to think that there were 10 to 15 million people there," he said.

The LiDAR initiative is being led by the PACUNAM Foundation, a Guatemalan nonprofit that seeks to further research and preservation efforts in the region. And the search for Mayan ruins is far from over: Scientists leading the charge only scanned roughly 800 square miles of jungle in this initial sweep, and apparently still have more than 5,000 square miles to go. Read more at National Geographic.