Beginning with the pioneering survey at Caracol in the Vaca Plateau of Belize (Chase et al. 2011a; Chase et al. 2011b) roughly a decade ago, the application of lidar in the Maya lowlands initiated a sea change in settlement research in the Maya area. Since then, a raft of studies has shown how this technology is inundating Maya settlement studies with data of unprecedented precision and scale.

Because there are now dozens of lidar surveys throughout the Maya area, it would seem timely to record, maintain, and make accessible the extent of lidar coverage that has been achieved in the Maya area thus far. Moreover, despite the excitement and interest this technology has sparked, it is also important to appreciate that not all lidar data are the same. Differences in survey strategy and data acquisition goals along with improvements in sensor technology and post-collection processing algorithms have created a variegated mosaic of lidar datasets whose differences should be a matter of record.

To that end, for the past 24 months, I have been assembling a database of the airborne lidar coverage thus far completed in the Maya area. In its current state, this dataset includes all polygons from: 1) publicly available lidar surveys (excepting INEGI’s 5m lidar), 2) lidar surveys conducted by different research projects that were shared with me, and 3) georeferenced traces of lidar surveys published by the owner(s) of the data. At the moment, this database contains information for 25 separate survey efforts involving over 35 different projects in Mexico, Guatemala, Belize, and Honduras dating from 2009 to 2019.

These lidar coverage polygons are accompanied by metadata that provide relevant associated information (such as date of survey, sensor used, number of ground points, and much more). Given the different sources of these polygons, these metadata are a bit unevenly distributed across the dataset. Juan Fernandez from the National Center for Airborne Laser Mapping (NCALM) was wonderfully helpful in providing detailed metadata of those surveys NCALM conducted and for which we received permission to share. For all efforts not conducted by NCALM, I did my best to gather as much relevant metadata from publications when the owners of the data were not available to do so themselves.

The dataset can be accessed in two ways: you can view and download the data on the Middle American Research Institute’s ArcGIS portal (no sign in required). Otherwise, you can download the compressed SHP files (ZIP format) from the Data page. The dataset is offered as-is and is meant for public use. To use, please just acknowledge the relevant project(s) and the M.A.R.I. GIS Lab in the following way: “Data provided courtesy of the [PROJECT NAME], Marcello A. Canuto, and the GIS Lab of the Middle American Research Institute at Tulane University.

Please note that this dataset is incomplete, so do consider it a “work in progress.” As new coverage data are made shareable, I will update these files. Moreover, please feel free to send me information if your data are missing and you would like them included.

While I predict updating this dataset will be a never-ending task, I think presenting this dataset as it now stands is the perfect first (well, really, second) post for this new blog! As I have noted, I am hoping that this blog will be as much a resource for shared and sharable data as it will be a forum for research. So, it is in the spirit of sharing that I offer what I hope are considered useful data. Thank you to all my friends and colleagues who shared and entrusted these data with me!


Chase, A.F., Chase, D.Z., Weishampel, J.F., Drake, J.B., Shrestha, R.L., Slatton, K.C., Awe, J.J., Carter, W.E., 2011a. Airborne Lidar, Archaeology, and the Ancient Maya Landscape at Caracol Belize. J. Archaeol. Sci. 38 (2), 387–398.

Chase, D.Z., Chase, A.F., Awe, J.J., Walker, J.H., Weishampel, J.F., 2011b. Airborne Lidar at Caracol, Belize and the Interpretation of Ancient Maya Society and Landscapes. Res. Reports Belizean Archaeol. 8, 61–73.

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