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The sheer size of the megalopolis suggests that Mayan populations were bigger than we thought. The sprawling pre-Columbian civilization was far more complex and interconnected than most Maya specialists had supposed. However, one of the new discoveries is a seven-story pyramid covered in vegetation.

The findings are a "revolution in Maya archeology", Canuto said, adding that researchers now believe the Maya had a population of 10 million, "much higher" than previous estimates. Another discovery was a complex network of raised highways linking all the Maya cities in the area.

As a result of researches scientists have found the remaining ruins of buildings, including houses, palaces, roads, terraces and complex irrigation systems.

"There's state involvement here, because we see large canals being dug that are re-directing natural water flows", said Thomas Garrison, Assistant Professor of Anthropology at Ithaca College in NY.

Researchers have identified more than 60,000 previously unknown structures in northern Guatemala after extensive aerial LiDAR (Light Detection And Ranging) surveys.

LiDAR revealed a previously undetected structure between the two sites that Garrison says "can't be called anything other than a Maya fortress". The highly accurate measurements from millions of laser pulses are used to produce a detailed three-dimensional image of the ground surface topography.

Vast network of hidden Maya cities discovered under Guatemala jungle

The method has been used elsewhere, including around the Angkor Wat temple in Cambodia.

The survey is part of a three-year project spearheaded by Guatemala's Foundation for Maya Cultural and Natural Heritage (PACUNAM).

Garrison's research is responsible for the largest-ever LiDAR survey for an archaeological project. Researchers have long known that Mayan settlements were present in the area, but the massive scale of the cities that were once teeming with activity was hugely miscalculated.

The 810 square miles (2,100 square kilometers) of mapping done vastly expands the area that was intensively occupied by the Maya, whose culture flourished between roughly 1,000 BC and 900 AD.

It had previously been thought to be a small mountain in the heart of the ancient Maya city of Tikal, a major tourist destination in northeastern Guatemala.