Researchers recently uncovered more than 60,000 houses, palaces, highways and other hidden Mayan ruins in Guatemala, thanks to laser technology, according to National Geographic.
The new laser technology — called Light Detection and Ranging, or LiDAR — "digitally removed the tree canopy from aerial images of the now-unpopulated landscape, revealing the ruins of a sprawling pre-Columbian civilization that was far more complex and interconnected than most Maya specialists had supposed," according to National Geographic.
The researchers uncovered more than 810 square miles of ruins in the northern Petén area of Guatemala, which "is thought to have been home to millions more people than other research had previously suggested," according to BBC.
"I think this is one of the greatest advances in over 150 years of Maya archaeology," Stephen Houston, professor of archaeology and anthropology at Brown University, told BBC.
The research suggests that Central America may have supported a large population that would have put it on the scale of Greece and China.
According to National Geographic, the technology revealed "highways connecting urban centers and quarries. Complex irrigation and terracing systems supported intensive agriculture capable of feeding masses of workers who dramatically reshaped the landscape."
Ithaca College archaeologist Thomas Garrison told Popular Mechanics that the fences and canals show that the civilization likely had a fully operating workforce.
"Everything is turned on its head," he told BBC.
Canuto said that it's surprising these structures were "hiding in plain sight," according to Popular Mechanics.
"As soon as we saw this we all felt a little sheepish because these were things that we had been walking over all the time," he said.
Marcello Canuto, a Tulane University archaeologist, told National Geographic that the new technology will change the way people view population growth in that region of the world.
"We've had this Western conceit that complex civilizations can't flourish in the tropics, that the tropics are where civilizations go to die," he said.
Lisa Lucero, an anthropologist at the University of Illinois, agreed, saying this finding proves people can live in a forest without having to destroy the environment, LiveScience reported.