Mapping Ritual Landscapes Using Lidar: Cave Detection through Local Relief Modeling


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Advances in Archaeological Practice

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Data collected from aerial lidar scanning provides new opportunities for archaeological survey. It is now possible, in a short period of time, to collect vast amounts of geographic data that would have taken years of pedestrian survey to acquire. This enhances and extends landscape studies by reducing time-frames and cost, encouraging analyses based on real-world data collection on a regional scale. This paper describes an approach for modeling the ritual landscape surrounding the ancient Maya center of Las Cuevas, Belize by analyzing the spatial aspects of ritual cave use. Using lidar-derived data, we describe a method for locating potential cave sites using Local Relief Models, which requires only a working knowledge of relief visualization techniques and no specialized skills in computer programming. Our method located the five known cave sites within our 222 km2 lidar study area—including one with a fissure entrance. We plan to ground-truth potentialities to develop models of the ritual landscape that can be visualized and analyzed. By researching cave use on a regional scale and defining the relationships between caves and surface features, we advance cave studies by deepening our understanding of the ritual landscape and its articulation with ancient Maya socio/political dynamics.

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