Humans as geomorphic agents: Lidar detection of the past, present and future of the Teotihuacan Valley, Mexico

Nawa Sugiyama, Saburo Sugiyama, Tanya Catignani, Adrian S.Z. Chase, Juan C. Fernandez-Diaz

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

7 Scopus citations


As humans are the primary geomorphic agents on the landscape, it is essential to assess the magnitude, chronological span, and future effects of artificial ground that is expanding under modern urbanization at an alarming rate. We argue humans have been primary geomorphic agents of landscapes since the rise of early urbanism that continue to structure our everyday lives. Past and present anthropogenic actions mold a dynamic “taskscape” (not just a landscape) onto the physical environment. For example, one of the largest Pre-Columbian metropolitan centers of the New World, the UNESCO world heritage site of Teotihuacan, demonstrates how past anthropogenic actions continue to inform the modern taskscape, including modern street and land alignments. This paper applies a multi-scalar, long durée approach to urban landscapes utilizing the first lidar map of the Teotihuacan Valley to create a geospatial database that links modern and topographic features visible on the lidar map with ground survey, historic survey, and excavation data. Already, we have recorded not only new features previously unrecognized by historic surveys, but also the complete erasure of archaeological features due to modern (post-2015) mining operations. The lidar map database will continue to evolve with the dynamic landscape, able to assess continuity and changes on the Teotihuacan Valley, which can benefit decision makers contemplating the stewardship, transformation, or destruction of this heritage landscape.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Article numbere0257550
JournalPloS one
Issue number9 September
StatePublished - Sep 2021

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • General


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