November 2, 2021
  • November 2, 2021

Building on the past – The poetry of science

By on September 24, 2021 0

Your broken footsteps rise
greet the sun,
dominant above like
monolithic icebergs
that betray their craggy depths.
Revealed in diffused light,
geometric dreams
former engineers
dance revealing
beneath the surface.
Hidden hands reaching out
through time for
align interactions
with this sharing
and broken landscape.
A model of excavations,
with each layer exposed
a new and future past.

The Pyramid of the Moon in Teotihuacán, Mexico (Image credit: Ricardo David Sánchez, via Wikimedia Commons).

This poem is inspired by recent research, who found that past human activities continue to inform modern infrastructure, such as street and land alignments.

Teotihuacán, which roughly translates from Nahuatl to English as “the city of the gods” and is located about 50 km northeast of modern Mexico City, was the most important and largest city in central Mexico pre -Aztec. At the height of its civilization, it covered an area of ​​around 20 km², with a population of around 125,000 to 200,000 people, making it one of the largest cities in the world at that time. Built around 1,000 to 2,000 years ago, Teotihuacán was designated a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 1987, and although some of its structures can be seen above ground today, most of the remains of the city are buried under fields, buildings and other areas of modern activity. As such, archaeologists and other researchers have had to develop new techniques to map this ancient city.

In this new study, the researchers used lidar (sensing and telemetry of light) to create maps of the Teotihuacán Valley. Lidar works by projecting light (in this case from a satellite) onto a target surface and timing the time it takes for the light to bounce back. Based on these intervals, it is possible to observe slight changes in elevation with extremely high resolution and thus determine what is below the surface and how the landscape has changed over time. The researchers found that the builders of Teotihuacán carried out an incredible amount of excavation – in one region alone, more than 370,000 square meters of man-made land accumulated over 300 years of construction, mined elsewhere in the Teotihuacán Valley. This major reshaping of the landscape has also been shown to affect the layout of modern construction and activities; for example, nearly 17 km of hydrologic systems visible in modern terrain were excavated by former engineers and builders from Teotihuacán. Unfortunately, this research also revealed that since 2015, more than 200 pieces of the ancient city have been destroyed by mining operations. The research team will now work with the Mexican government to use these new maps to provide a reference for the current state of Teotihuacán’s cultural heritage, helping to ensure that it does not disappear under more human development.


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