We knew about the Olmec and Maya, but their sites were hard to spot and hard to study because of the jungle. Now, we keep learning more and more.
A train project on the Yucatan Peninsula is uncovering hundreds of Mayan settlements, proving that the area was more densely populated than once thought, as archaeologists have been beginning to suspect.
Meanwhile, Lidar technology is able to peer through the jungle and reveal not only more and more ceremonial sites stretching over the Olmec and Mayan culture areas, but also common layouts that seem to indicate a broad shared cultural (or at least, architectural) tradition dating back to 3,400 years ago.
It looks to me like what we have here is a Central American version of the Sumerian urban/bureaucratic/temple-based civilization, giving rise to a series of civilizations that followed the same model: Akkadian, then Babylonian, and so on. And, if we believe the 3,400 YA date, the same thing in Central America was happening at almost the same time. It’s almost as if people tend to set up hierarchical city-states with temples wherever they settle, almost as soon as they settle there, whenever circumstances permit. Almost as if they were dispersing, and remembering something.