Adapting LiDAR data for regional variation in the tropics: A case study from the Northern Maya Lowlands

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42 Scopus citations


Archeologists have used Light Detection and Ranging (LiDAR) as a remote sensing technique for creating high resolution and high accuracy elevation models of the earth's surface in forested areas. In the Maya area, LiDAR allows archeologists to conduct full-coverage regional surveys for the first time. Yet due to variation across space in the characteristics of vegetation, topography, and the kinds of archeological features that archeologists seek to locate, the use of LiDAR in the tropics will not meet the same level of success in every case study. Such variation in vegetation, topography, and archeological features also creates opportunities for archeologists to explore methodological adjustments that can maximize the usefulness of LiDAR data for a particular forested area. Using a case study from Northern Yucatan, Mexico, this paper explores a variety of techniques for visually rendering LiDAR data in an attempt to determine which technique works best for identifying low stone residential platforms given the local topography and vegetation. The most successful technique, a color-classified DEM, was then used to locate hundreds of previously undocumented platforms in the area of LiDAR coverage. Conducting a rapid vegetation survey showed that more features can be found in forested areas when there is less vegetation close to the ground. Vegetation surveys permit the calculation of vegetation-specific correction factors to be used in conclusions derived from LiDAR imagery.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)252-263
Number of pages12
JournalJournal of Archaeological Science: Reports
StatePublished - Dec 1 2015

Bibliographical note

Funding Information:
Research presented in this paper was conducted with funds from the College of Arts and Sciences at the University of Kentucky (special thanks to dean Mark Kornbluh as well as Mary Anglin and Ted Schatzki) and from the National Science Foundation ( BCS-1063667 ). I thank NCALM, particularly Juan Fernández Díaz, for their support. Liang Liang, Keith Prufer, and Kayla Brownstein each provided tips for manipulating the point cloud. Comments from Robert Rosenswig and two anonymous reviewers greatly improved this paper.

Publisher Copyright:
© 2015 Elsevier Ltd.


  • Ancient Maya
  • Ground truthing
  • LiDAR
  • Political dynamics
  • Settlement patterns
  • Vegetation survey

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Archaeology
  • Archaeology


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