Lasers Reveal a Maya Civilization So Dense It Blew Experts’ Minds

(THIS ARTICLE IS COURTESY OF THE NEW YORK TIMES)

 

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Tikal, home to temples and palaces, is one of the best known Maya sites in northern Guatemala.CreditJustin Lane for The New York Times

They were hidden there, all this time, under the cover of tree canopies in the jungles of northern Guatemala: tens of thousands of structures built by the Maya over a millennium ago.

Not far from the sites tourists already know, like the towering temples of the ancient city of Tikal, laser technology has uncovered about 60,000 homes, palaces, tombs and even highways in the humid lowlands.

The findings suggested an ancient society of such density and interconnectedness that even the most experienced archaeologists were surprised.

“Everywhere that we looked, there was more settlement than we expected,” said Thomas Garrison, a National Geographic explorer and an archaeologist at Ithaca University. “We knew there was going to be more, but the scale of it really blew our minds.”

Researchers found the structures by shooting lasers down from planes to pierce the thick foliage and paint a 3-D picture of the ground below. The technology is called Light Detection and Ranging, or lidar.

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The method has been used elsewhere, including around the Angkor Wat temple in Cambodia. But this lidar project is the largest ever undertaken. More than 800 square miles of the Maya Biosphere Reserve in Guatemala’s Petén region have been mapped, according to an exclusive report by National Geographic, which is airing a Feb. 6 television special about the project.

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“This world, which was lost to this jungle, is all of a sudden revealed in the data,” said Albert Yu-Min Lin, an engineer and National Geographic explorer who worked on the television special. “And what you thought was this massively understood, studied civilization is all of a sudden brand new again.”

The lasers are only the first step, he added, noting that he and archaeologists still had to trek through jungles to verify the data while contending with thick undergrowth, poisonous snakes, swarms of killer bees and the odd scorpion.

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Lidar data highlighted about 60,000 structures that had been hidden in the jungle for hundreds of years.CreditWild Blue Media/National Geographic

The project was started by Pacunam, a Guatemalan nonprofit organization, and carried out with help from the National Center for Airborne Laser Mapping, which is based at the University of Houston. The lidar technology essentially allows researchers to spot bumps in the landscape. Most of the ruins look like rocky mounds — even in person, and to the naked eye — but experts can often identify a collapsed quarry, palace or street.

The Maya culture was known for its sophisticated approach to agriculture, arts and astronomy. The peak era for the civilization, which some archaeologists refer to as the Classic Period, is generally considered to have lasted from around A.D. 250 to 900.

The total population at that time was once estimated to be a few million, said Diane Davies, an archaeologist and Maya specialist based in the United Kingdom. But in light of the new lidar data, she said it could now be closer to 10 million.

Dr. Davies was not involved in the lidar project but considered it “really big, sensational news.” She said the data should encourage people not only to re-evaluate Maya civilization, but also to learn from it.

“To have such a large number of people living at such a high level for such a long period of time, it really proves the fact that these people were highly developed, and also quite environmentally conscientious,” she said.

Among the structures uncovered were roads, built wide and raised high above the wetlands to connect fields to farmers and markets to metropolises. There were also small dwellings, quarries and intricate irrigation systems. “We’re seeing the spaces in between, and that’s where really interesting stuff was happening,” Dr. Garrison said.

He added that in addition to changing people’s perception of the Maya culture, lidar represented “a sea change” in the field of archaeology.

“I don’t think you see a lot of discoveries happening across the sciences right now that sort of turn a discipline on its head,” he said. “It’s exciting to know that it can still happen.”

Strong earthquake prompts tsunami threat message in Caribbean, Mexico

(THIS ARTICLE IS COURTESY OF CNN)

 

Strong earthquake prompts tsunami threat message in Caribbean, Mexico

(CNN)The US Pacific Tsunami Warning Center said tsunami waves were possible for several countries in the Caribbean and Central America, as well as Mexico, after a magnitude-7.6 earthquake struck 27 miles off the coast of Honduras.

“Tsunami waves reaching 0.3 to 1 meters above the tide level are possible for some coasts of Belize, Cuba, Honduras, Mexico, the Cayman Islands and Jamaica,” the agency said.
The earthquake was 44 kilometers east of Great Swan Island, Honduras, the US Geological Survey said.

12 dead, 18 injured in Mexico tour bus crash

(THIS ARTICLE IS COURTESY OF CNN)

 

12 dead, 18 injured in Mexico tour bus crash

(CNN)A tour bus crash in Mexico’s Yucatan Peninsula on Tuesday has left 12 dead and 18 injured, officials said.

The bus was carrying 31 people, including tourists from the United States, Italy, Brazil and Sweden, in the state of Quintana Roo, according to Public Security of Quintana Roo. The dead include one child, the agency said in a statement.
The bus was traveling from the coastal village of Mahahual to the Mayan archaeological site Chacchoben, according to Public Security of Quintana Roo. Chacchoben is about 110 miles south of the popular tourist destination Tulum.
The injured were sent to hospitals in Bacalar and Chetumal. Five were later released.
Among the bus passengers were 27 cruise guests from two Royal Caribbean ships, Celebrity Equinox and Serenade of the Seas, the cruise line said. The ships arrived Tuesday in the busy cruise ship port of Costa Maya, a vacation destination on Mexico’s Caribbean coast near the Belize border. Both ships left Tuesday afternoon.
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The Chaccoben Mayan Ruins.

“Our hearts go out to all those involved in the bus accident in Costa Maya. We are doing all we can to care for our guests, including assisting with medical care and transportation,” spokeswoman Cynthia Martinez said. “We are working with the local authorities to learn more about the accident.”
Celebrity Equinox, a seven-night Caribbean cruise, departed from PortMiami on Saturday, December 16. Serenade of the Seas, also a seven-night Caribbean cruise, departed Fort Lauderdale, Florida, on Friday, December 15.
Video of the crash’s aftermath showed a bus on its side in a wooded area off the roadway.

Representatives from the United States mission in Mexico are heading to the scene to assist any US citizens involved, State Department spokesperson Heather Nauert said.
“We know that lots of families and individuals are traveling this time of year,” she said. “We’re working with local authorities.”

Large Jade Pendant With Unique Inscription Discovered In Belize

 

The newly-discovered jewel with 30 hieroglyphs on its back, a private message seen mostly by the king who wore it.

Impressively Large Jade Pendant with Unique Inscription Discovered in Belize

A group of archaeologists have discovered in Belize a large, carved jade pendant that once belonged to an ancient Maya king, inscribed with a historical text delineating its first owner. The newly found object is carved in a T shape, which experts suggest that signifies “wind and breath”, and would have been worn on the king’s chest during ceremonies. The finds also include a vessel with a beaked face believed to depict a Maya god of wind.

Second Largest Maya Jade Relic Found in Belize

The jewel was first uncovered in 2015, in Nim Li Punit in southern Belize. The T-shaped pendant is considered of extraordinary archaeological value for being the second largest Maya jade artifact found in Belize to date. Geoffrey Braswell, director of the excavations and professor at University of California, San Diego, suggests in a paper he recently published in the Cambridge University journal Ancient Mesoamerica that, “It was like finding the Hope Diamond in Peoria instead of New York. We would expect something like it in one of the big cities of the Maya world. Instead, here it was, far from the center,” Braswell said as Phys Org reports.

In the movie ‘Apocalypto’, a Maya king is shown wearing a large pendant during a ceremony.

In the movie ‘Apocalypto’, a Maya king is shown wearing a large pendant during a ceremony.

The Jewel “Spoke” to the Archaeologists

The 7.4-inch-wide, 4.1-inch-long pendant is just 0.3 inches thick, and researchers claim that sawing it into this slim shape would have been a feat in itself. Its sculptors would have used just string, fat, and jade dust. However, what makes this pedant truly significant from an archaeological point of view is that it is the only known jewel to be inscribed with a historical text, with 30 hieroglyphs describing its first owner carved into the back. “It literally speaks to us. The story it tells is a short but important one.” Braswell said and added that this discovery could even change what we know about the Mayan civilization. Braswell also explained that fortunately the pendant was not torn out of history by looters, “To find it on a legal expedition, in context, gives us information about the site and the jewel that we couldn’t have otherwise had or maybe even imagined,” he said.

UC San Diego archaeologist Geoffrey Braswell holds a replica of the Maya jade pendant.

UC San Diego archaeologist Geoffrey Braswell holds a replica of the Maya jade pendant. Credit: Erik Jepsen/UC San Diego Publications.

There’s More to Learn from the Inscription on the Pendant

Christian Prager of the University of Bonn, a co-author on the paper, is currently examining closely the inscription on the pendant. According to Prager and Braswell, the jewel was possibly made for the king Janaab’ Ohl K’inich and the hieroglyphs describe the king’s parentage. The text, according to Braswell, also describes the accession rites of the king in the year 647, and ends with a passage that could link the king to the powerful city of Caracol in modern-day Belize. The researchers don’t think the pendent was stolen, but may instead indicate the arrival of royalty at Nim Li Punit, revealing the founding of a new dynasty.

No solid conclusions can be made at this point, due to the fact that Mayan script itself is not yet fully deciphered. Many scientists have intensely disagreed before regarding Mayan culture and scripts.

The Significance of Weather for Maya Culture

The team of researchers discovered the jewel during an excavation of a palace built around the year 400 AD. Inside a tomb, which dates to about 800, they found twenty-five pottery vessels, a large stone that had been flaked into the shape of a deity, and the jade pectoral. With the exception of some teeth, there were no human remains. The T-shaped pendent also has a T carved on the front the Mayan glyph ‘ik,’ which according to the experts stands for “wind and breath.” Wind was important in Maya culture, as it brought monsoon rains that favored crops to thrive, “A recent theory is that climate change caused droughts that led to the widespread failure of agriculture and the collapse of Maya civilization. The dedication of this tomb at that time of crisis to the wind god who brings the annual rains lends support to this theory, and should remind us all about the danger of climate change,” Braswell told Phys Org.

Despite the fact that we may never learn all the details we need to know about this rare pendant, Braswell reassures that he and his team plan to return to the site during the spring of this year and do further research which may help us to understand better the usage and significance of this unique jewel.

Top image: The newly discovered jewel with 30 hieroglyphs on its back, a private message seen mostly by the king who wore it. Credit: University of California – San Diego.

By Theodoros

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