Louisville Professors Map Underwater Mayan Ruins

By on September 7, 2014

“If I knew I was dying in a week, I’d tie myself to [John Hale]!” These are the words of one of the many alumni and students to attend the lecture “Exploring and Ancient Mayan Atlantis” held at the University Club and Alumni Center on Thurs., Sept. 4.

“He could lecture about wallpaper and people would come to listen!” remarked Donald Stern, a student in his nineteenth year here at the University of Louisville and one of the students currently enrolled in the professor’s Underwater Archaeology course.

The archaeology expert gave the lecture alongside the head of the Geographic Information System Department, Robert Forbes. The two professors worked together in the excavation and mapping of the ancient Mayan site known as Samabaj. Dating back nearly 2000 years to what is referred to as the pre-classic Mayan era, Samabaj is completely submerged underwater, lying beneath what Hale calls “the most beautiful lake in the world,” Lake Atitlán.

With the assistance of U of L undergrad Ron Charles as well as a team of Guatemalan archaeologists, Dr. Hale set out to create an archaeological map of Samabaj. The map would denote the different archaeological features from rock piles to altars. This proved a difficult task using solely the standard SONAR methods typical of such underwater projects. For this reason, Hale chose to enlist the help of Robert Forbes and GIS technology.

This cross-disciplinary partnership led to the extensive mapping of the ancient Mayan pilgrimage site. The maps created from Hale’s on-site research (done almost entirely through SCUBA diving) and Forbes’ 9-step process of transferring and digitizing information were a success, and the duo aim to publicize the work in the near future.

Hale expressed a hope for the partnership to continue on in future endeavors as well as a hope to return to the Samabaj ruins some day. In the meantime, one can find either of the “geopologists”-the humorous classification Forbes has given to the combination of his and Hale’s fields- as well as many of their adoring fans right here at U of L.

About Samuel Louis Thomas

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