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The Mayans: Discoveries & Theories

Clues to collapse of the Maya provided by discovery of royal graves

A grave holding up to 50 bodies is helping archaeologists piece together the fall of the Central American Mayan civilisation. The bodies are of men, women and children, thought to be nobles, and they have been buried with jewellery after being put to death with a spear through the chest. The site is in the Guatemalan jungle in the ancient city of Cancuen, which prospered along the trade route of the river Pasion. The graves were uncovered earlier this year by a team involving US archaeologist Dr Arthur A Demarest while excavating a pool in one of Cancuen’s palaces; the research was published last week and was funded by National Geographic magazine and Vanderbilt University. (November 22nd)

Mayan treasure found in Guatemala

Archaeologists working in Guatemala say they have uncovered one of the most spectacular pieces of artwork created by the ancient Mayan people.
They say they have discovered a mural depicting the Mayan creation myth and the coronation of a king, thought to be more than 2,000 years old.

Archaeologist William Saturno said it was like finding the Mayan equivalent of the Vatican's Sistine Chapel.

The mural was discovered at the San Bartolo site in northern Guatemala.

'Unique' find

Mr Saturno, of the University of New Hampshire, said the mural - painted in greyish blue, orange and flesh tones - was discovered at the western wall of a room attached to a pyramid.

The mural on the wall - measuring 0.9x9m (3x30 ft) - includes four deities, which are variations of the same figure, the son of the maize god, offering a blood sacrifice from his genitals.

The first deity stands in the water and offers a fish, establishing the watery underworld, Mr Saturno said.

The second stands on the ground and sacrifices a deer, establishing the land; the third floats in the air, offering a turkey to establish the sky; and the fourth stands in a field of flowers, the food of gods, establishing paradise.

The crowned Mayan king is depicted at the end of the mural, Mr Saturno said.

"It was like discovering the Sistine Chapel if you didn't know there had been a Renaissance," Mr Saturno said at a news conference.

"It's like knowing only modern art and then stumbling on the finger of God touching the hand of Adam," he said.

Mr Saturno first reported the discovery of the site in 2002.

The western wall is thought to be painted about 100 BC, but was later covered when the room was filled in.

Archaeologists say the artwork is particularly unique because it dates from hundreds of years before the classical Mayan period.

The Mayans - known for their prowess in astronomy and mathematics - dominated southern Mexico and parts of Central America for some 1,500 years until the Spanish conquered them 500 years ago.

The mural and William Saturno's research will be featured in the January issue of National Geographic magazine.

Discovery of Mayan 'Sistine Chapel' rewrites ancient history

An accidental discovery of a Mayan mural considered the equivalent of the Sistine Chapel has prompted historians to reconsider the age of the Central American civilization. Archaeologist William Saturno stumbled across the stunning nine-metre mural by chance at the site of San Bartolo in Guatemala. Describing the moment he saw the vibrant mural in a tunnel, he stated: ‘I had accidentally made the discovery of a lifetime - a small portion of a brilliantly painted mural more than 2,000 years old.’ The well-preserved plaster work was made in 100BC and depicts a maize-god deity offering sacrifices and another section shows the coronation of royalty. (December 16th)

Mayan hieroglyphics discovered dating to 3rd century BC

Hieroglyphics discovered in an ancient Mayan temple in Guatemala date to the third century BC, showing Mayan writing developed much earlier than believed, according to research published Thursday.

The hieroglyphics, found on a block of stone in the Mayan pyramid Las Pinturas in San Bartolo, northeastern Guatemala, were dated to 200 to 300 BC, placing Mayan writing together with the earliest examples of script elsewhere in Mesoamerica, said the study published in the January 6 edition of Science.

Researchers led by anthropologist William Saturno of the University of New Hampshire examined the writings on a fragment of painted block from a room richly decorated with polychrome murals deep inside the pyramid.

The block had ten Mayan hieroglyphs painted in heavy black lines on top of white plaster. Although clear in their rendering, deciphering the writing "remains a challenge", the researchers said, because they date centuries before the earliest fully legible Mayan writings.

One of the glyphs was clearly recognized and understood from later Mayan texts as the title "ajaw", meaning "lord" or "noble" or "ruler".

Others appeared to be pictorial, one suggesting a hand holding a brush or a blood-letting instrument.

Still others were abstract and unfamiliar, the scientists said, "probably ancestral to components of later Maya script".

The radiocarbon dating of wood associated with the script on the block placed it between 200 and 300 BC, much older than the 100 BC-100 AD dating previously established for the earliest Mayan writing.

The discovery raises new questions about the relationship of Mayan writing to the previously understood oldest script of the region, Epi-Olmec used by neighboring peoples to the west, the study said.

Established writing systems in what is now Oaxaca, Mexico and elsewhere have been dated to 400 BC.

"It now appears that the Maya also participated in the Pre-classic cultures of literacy, and at a significantly earlier date than previously believed," the study said.

Heres are a couple pictures I took 1 week ago from Cozumel mexico, an island from the coast of mexico. The first is of some mayan ruins.


Recent hurricane damage has stripped most trees bare.
Ancient Maya Tomb Found: Upright Skeleton, Unusual Location
Kelly Hearn
for National Geographic News

May 17, 2007
Archaeologists working in Honduras have discovered an entombed human skeleton of an elite member of the ancient Maya Empire that may help unravel some longstanding mysteries of the vanished culture.

The remains, seated in an upright position in an unusual tomb and flanked by shells, pottery, vessels, and jade adornments, suggest a surprisingly diverse culture and complex political system in the influential Maya city of Copán around A.D. 650.

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Oldest Known Maya Mural, Tomb Reveal Story of Ancient King (December 13, 2005)
Earliest Maya Writing Found in Guatemala, Researchers Say (January 5, 2006)
Genographic Project: Atlas of the Human Journey

Located at the western edge of modern-day Honduras near the border with Guatemala, Copán, was one of the most important Maya sites, flourishing between the fifth and ninth centuries A.D. (Honduras map).

But until now, much about the political makeup and cultural range of the city—famous for its funerary slabs—has been poorly understood. (Related: "Ancient Maya Royal Tomb Discovered in Guatemala" [May 4, 2006].)

The position of the body, the structure of the tomb, and several unexpected artifacts suggest the interred individual was a political or priestly figure, said discoverer Allan Maca, an archaeologist at Colgate University in New York State.

The entombed individual was found with "a jade pectoral hung from a necklace of dozens of jade beads of various sizes," Maca said. Because jade was a precious commodity, he added, the jewels represent "a level of control over economic resources."

"The incised design on the pectoral likely represents a political title or social affiliation that links this individual to other major sites around the city," Maca said.

The remains belong to a 50-year-old man with various illnesses. He had poor use of his left arm, poor arterial flow through his upper spinal cord, and a chronic infection of the skull known as mastoiditis, according to a bioarchaeological analysis by Katherine Miller of Arizona State University.


Maca discovered the tomb in 2005 in the Copán Archaeological park.

But Maca—whose work was funded by the National Geographic Society's Committee for Research and Exploration—only announced his findings last week, in conjunction with officials from the Honduran Institute of Anthropology and History, after months of excavation. (National Geographic News is owned by the National Geographic Society.)

"The tomb is characterized by a split vault created by interlocking lintels [load-bearing horizontal supports]," said Maca, who is also the director of the Project for the Planning of Ancient Copán.

Ancient Maya Tomb Found: Upright Skeleton, Unusual Location
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"The chamber was accessed from above by a stuccoed stone chute that descends from the surface of the temple," he continued.

Maca said the features allowed the tomb to be "reentered years after the original interment, for purposes of ancestor veneration."

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Oldest Known Maya Mural, Tomb Reveal Story of Ancient King (December 13, 2005)
Earliest Maya Writing Found in Guatemala, Researchers Say (January 5, 2006)
Genographic Project: Atlas of the Human Journey

The tomb's location, some 1,300 feet (400 meters) west of the Acropolis, Copán's ceremonial core, was unexpected, Maca added.

"The design is without precedent in the Maya area and is the first elaborate tomb construction to be discovered outside the ceremonial center of Copán," he said. (See pictures of what the Maya Empire might have looked like.)

The grandiose tombs belonging to members of the Copán dynasty, royal court, and royal family are typically found in Copán's Acropolis, Maca explained. Copán archaeologists have focused their research in the central area for many recent decades as well as much of the 19th century.

"As we begin to think more broadly about the great extent of the royal city, and about how to protect it against modern looting and population growth, we are coming to understand that the dynasty manifested its power in sectors of the Copán Valley that have never been explored," Maca said.


There are other oddities to the tomb.

The position of the buried individual—seated with legs crossed—was not common in Copán or in the Maya lowlands during the Classic period, which lasted from about A.D. 300 to 900.

And several vessels found in the tomb, made in sets specifically for the burial, bear "a type of false or alternative hieroglyphics unlike those used by the ancient Maya," he said.

Some of the pottery vessels likely came from the south near present-day El Salvador, Maca added.

"Thus it is unlikely that these were made in Copán and probable that they signify some sort of cultural affiliation with that region," he said.

Also found in the tomb were seashells laid in a pattern that appears to represent a kind of cosmological map and may be representative of the waters in Maya creation mythology, Maca said.

The shells must have arrived to the region through commercial exchanges with the coast, Maca said.

The findings bring into clearer focus a picture of a Classic-period Copán society that was culturally diverse.

The discovery provides "an unusual archaeological context that helps expand our knowledge of the sociopolitical and cultural complexity of the ancient city and of the funerary and ritual landscape of the Copán Valley during the seventh century A.D.," Maca said.

Dario Euraque, director of the Honduran Institute of Anthropology and History, said Maca's findings were significant for a number of reasons.

"Mainly, this is the first tomb to be found outside the principal monuments where all funeral sites are located," he said.

"We never thought we would find any in the Bosque, which is along the periphery of Copán."

He agreed that the artifacts and tomb characteristics were not representative of the Maya culture.

"This goes against theories that all populations in the Copán Valley were uniquely Mayan," he said. "There appears to have been a cultural mix."

http://news.nationalgeographic.com/news ... -tomb.html
Archeologists find rare Maya panels in Guatemala

Archeologists find rare Maya panels in Guatemala
By Sarah Grainger

GUATEMALA CITY (Reuters) - Archeologists have uncovered carved stucco panels depicting cosmic monsters, gods and serpents in Guatemala's northern jungle that are the oldest known depictions of a famous Mayan creation myth.

The newly discovered panels, both 26 feet long and stacked on top of each other, were created around 300 BC and show scenes from the core Mayan mythology, the Popol Vuh.

It took investigators three months to uncover the carvings while excavating El Mirador, the biggest ancient Mayan city in the world, the site's head researcher, Richard Hansen, said on Wednesday.

The Maya built soaring temples and elaborate palaces in Central America and southern Mexico, dominating the region for some 2,000 years, before mysteriously abandoning their cities around 900 AD.

The El Mirador basin was deserted much earlier with the large urban population leaving a complex network of roads and waterways and a massive pyramid now covered under thick vegetation.

The earliest written version of the Popol Vuh was discovered in the early 1700s by a Spanish colonial priest and the panels are the first known sculptural depictions of the main characters in the myth -- two hero twins, Hansen said.

"This is pre-Christian, it has tremendous antiquity and shows again the remarkable resilience of an ideology that's existed for thousands of years," Hansen, an Idaho State University archeologist who has worked at El Mirador for over a decade, said.

On one panel, the twins are depicted surrounded by cosmic monsters and above them is a bird deity with outstretched wings. On the other, there is a Mayan corn god framed by an undulating serpent, said Hansen who worked as a consultant for Mel Gibson's 2006 movie about the Maya, "Apocalypto."


Spread over more than 500,000 acres (2,000 square km), El Mirador is three times the size of Guatemala's famous Tikal ruins, a popular tourist destination.

But El Mirador's conservation is threatened by drug traffickers who use the area to ship cocaine and heroin across the porous border with Mexico, deforestation by locals, looters who steal ancient artifacts to sell on the black market and wild animal poachers.

Last year, President Alvaro Colom announced the creation of a massive park in the dense jungle of northern Guatemala's Peten region, which would encompass both El Mirador and the already excavated Tikal.

The plan includes the construction by 2020 of a silent, propane powered train to carry thousands of tourists to the ruins, currently only accessible by helicopter or a two-day hike through the jungle.

(Writing by Mica Rosenberg; Editing by Cynthia Osterman)


And the alt-archeology take:


Guatemala: UFO experts amazed by Mayan panels just unearthed
Michael Cohen [email protected].
Reuters reported this week that archaeologists working in deep in Guatemala’s northern jungle have unearthed incredible carved panels that are believed to depict scenes from Mayan creation myths involving monsters, serpents and deities. The panels were discovered on the site of El-Mirador, the largest known Mayan city in the world which is constantly being excavated revealing more surprises. The city itself is remarkable in that it contained the complex roads, canals and impressive structures one would expect of a modern metropolis. The sites head researcher Richard Hansen has dated the panels to around 300 BC
As expected there was no mention of aliens or UFOs in relation to the find. Ufologists have been concentrating in particular on Mayan civilization and mythology for decades, probably more so than any other ancient civilisation. Its astronomy and myths of immortal beings arriving from the stars to give humans knowledge are well known.
Ufologists are now marvelling at the latest images of Mayan mythology carved in stone. Many have already noted that the panel shown on the Reuters website clearly depicts a UFO surrounded by two non-human beings covered in some form of technological equipment.

Interestingly the date range given for the carvings puts their creation not long after Ezekiel’s graphic descriptions of wheels within wheels. To say that the similarity to Ezekiel’s wheels and ‘living creatures’ is striking might be putting it mildly.
I don’t think the proof of the theory that civilizations were once guided by alien visitors could get any stronger. The only question is when will our friends from space openly return and give us some guidance, possibly more needed now than then.


You pays your money and takes your choice...
Was about to say "Call Erich von Däniken!", but the UFO angle came fast.
Just been watching Cities of the Underworld about Mayan sites in Belize.

One site involved descending down some caves which are believed to represent the 9 (?) levels of Mayan hell.

There was evidence of sacrifices and the such like, but the deepest depths were said to be ruled over by the God Ah Puch.

I was just wondering something, I know very little of Mayah history and beliefs, they show implied that there would have been great fear about visiting this deepest level of the caves. There must have been something down there that scared them.

I live near some caves and I get creeped out going down them - who doesn't if they are honest - but once you get to the bottom and there is nothing actually there you come out again.

Surely the Mayans would have gone down there, maybe sacrificed a few people, and realised there was actually nothing down there - or was the sacrifice believed to have protected them?

My theory - and I was wondering if anyone more aware of Mayan culture could shed any light on if this has been mentioned - is that could there possibly have been a case of a group within the society using the beliefs as a means of power?

In it's most simple explanation, could there have been a guy who would hide in the cave wearing an owl-head topped costume who would appear to Mayans venturing down the caves to reinforce their beliefs in the Gods as a means of controlling society? Perhaps even allowing those pulling the strings to get rid of enemies or undesirables by means of saacrifice.
I'm hoping that they translate and find that it says "Long-count Calendar". part II, which would upset all the 2012 prophets of doom... :twisted:
Ancient Maya Practiced Forest Conservation 3,000 Years Ago
http://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/20 ... 150825.htm

Temple 1 was built second, in 682 to 734 A.D., possibly completed after Jasaw Chan K'awiil's death. (Credit: Image courtesy of University of Cincinnati)

ScienceDaily (July 23, 2009) — As published in the July issue of the Journal of Archaeological Science, paleoethnobotanist David Lentz of the University of Cincinnati has concluded that not only did the Maya people practice forest management, but when they abandoned their forest conservation practices it was to the detriment of the entire Maya culture.

“From our research we have learned that the Maya were deliberately conserving forest resources,” says David Lentz, a professor of biological sciences at the University of Cincinnati and executive director of the Cincinnati Center for Field Studies. “Their deliberate conservation practices can be observed in the wood they used for construction and this observation is reinforced by the pollen record.”

The UC team is the first North American team allowed to work at the Tikal site core in northern Guatemala in more than 40 years. The UC team is unique in other ways as well. Whereas previous archaeological excavations reflected an interest in culture history, particularly of the elites, researchers’ interests are different in the 21st century.

“Forty years ago the emphasis was on what king built what palace, who slew whom and who is portrayed on what stelae. It’s all about the rulers and their exploits,” says Lentz. “They didn’t look at the economy, agricultural practices, forest management or how the people and the culture functioned.”

And what the UC team has learned by studying these processes is that the Maya, at least initially, were practicing good forestry management.

“They were not allowed to cut down what we’re calling the ‘sacred groves,’” says Lentz. “Then that changed during the Late Classic period with Jasaw Chan K’awiil — one of the greatest figures of prehistory. The Tikal Maya had been beaten up and had fallen to second-rate status prior to his ascendancy. Jasaw Chan K’awiil led an army to the heartland of a competing city, Calakmul, captured their ruler, bound him, brought him back and sacrificed him — and it totally reversed their fortunes in a very dramatic way.”

After that, the Maya rebuilt the city of Tikal in a way never seen before. They begin building huge temples that required considerable resources, especially large, straight trees whose wood could withstand the weight of tons of stone. Their choices were limited to two types of trees only.

“So, unfortunately, Jasaw Chan K’awiil tapped into their sacred groves to do this,” says Lentz. The stands of virgin timber were more than 200 years old in some areas. After building a few of the temples, the Maya ran out of timber from the Manilkara zapota (sapodilla) tree, so they switched to an inferior tree —Haematoxylon campechianum, logwood or inkwood — which is found in swamps.

“Sapodilla is soft when you first cut it, so it can be carved into beautiful, intricate shapes. Yet when it dries, it is as hard as iron,” Lentz explains. “Logwood, on the other hand, is like iron to start with and stays that way.”

Logwood often is very crooked and grows to much lesser heights — so the archways in the temples built with logwood were far less ornate. Temples 1 through 4 are quite large, with temple 4 having the largest lintels, the beams over the doorways. Temples 5 and 6 (built in the middle — the temples are not numbered in order of construction) are much smaller.

“For the last temple (temple 3), they went back to sapodilla — why?” says Lentz. “Perhaps they had replanted after their sacred groves had been cleared of their timber. After 40 years you get a tree big enough with which to build. Also, at that point, things were beginning to go downhill for the Maya. Perhaps they reasoned that the gods didn’t like the new style of temple and they needed to return to the construction style of earlier, and more prosperous, times.”

So what led to the downfall of the Maya? Whether it was the gods’ displeasure or not, the answer came from the heavens.

“When you clear all the forests, it changes the hydrologic cycle,” says Lentz. “The world is like a flat surface with all the trees acting as sponges on it. The trees absorb the water. Without the trees, there is no buffer to stop the water from runoff. That causes soil erosion, which then chokes the rivers and streams. With no trees, you lose water retention in the soil or aquifers so the ground dries up and then there is less transpiration, so therefore less rainfall as well.”

In addition to using the trees as timber, the Maya also burned the trees, adding carbon to the air in the form of carbon dioxide. Trees remove carbon dioxide from the air and return oxygen in its place, thus cleaning and purifying the air.

“Forests provide many benefits to society,” says Lentz. “The Maya forests provided timber, fuel, food, fiber and medicine in addition to the ecosystem services of cleansing the air and water. Just as forests provided essential resources for the ancient Maya, the same is true for our civilization today.”

A UC research team, which will again include archaeologist Vern Scarborough and geographer Nick Dunning, will be returning to Tikal in February 2010. Some of the key questions that remain are how did the Maya control their water resources, when did the deforestation occur, what trees were used when, did the Maya plant large orchards and where were the sacred groves.

“We’re saying in the end they were unsuccessful,” says Lentz. “But they kept it going for several hundreds of years — so they must have done some things right.”

This research was funded by grants from WennerGren and National Science Foundation award #0810118.


Adapted from materials provided by University of Cincinnati.
So mayabe they weren't so good at conservation after all.

The Fall Of The Maya: "They Did It To Themselves"
http://www.terradaily.com/reports/The_F ... s_999.html
by Dauna Coulter

Huntsville AL (SPX) Oct 14, 2009
For 1200 years, the Maya dominated Central America. At their peak around 900 A.D., Maya cities teemed with more than 2,000 people per square mile - comparable to modern Los Angeles County.
Even in rural areas the Maya numbered 200 to 400 people per square mile. But suddenly, all was quiet. And the profound silence testified to one of the greatest demographic disasters in human prehistory - the demise of the once vibrant Maya society. What happened? Some NASA-funded researchers think they have a pretty good idea.

"They did it to themselves," says veteran archeologist Tom Sever.

"The Maya are often depicted as people who lived in complete harmony with their environment,' says PhD student Robert Griffin. "But like many other cultures before and after them, they ended up deforesting and destroying their landscape in efforts to eke out a living in hard times."

A major drought occurred about the time the Maya began to disappear. And at the time of their collapse, the Maya had cut down most of the trees across large swaths of the land to clear fields for growing corn to feed their burgeoning population. They also cut trees for firewood and for making building materials.

"They had to burn 20 trees to heat the limestone for making just 1 square meter of the lime plaster they used to build their tremendous temples, reservoirs, and monuments," explains Sever.

He and his team used computer simulations to reconstruct how the deforestation could have played a role in worsening the drought. They isolated the effects of deforestation using a pair of proven computer climate models: the PSU/NCAR mesoscale atmospheric circulation model, known as MM5, and the Community Climate System Model, or CCSM.

"We modeled the worst and best case scenarios: 100 percent deforestation in the Maya area and no deforestation," says Sever. "The results were eye opening. Loss of all the trees caused a 3-5 degree rise in temperature and a 20-30 percent decrease in rainfall."

The results are telling, but more research is needed to completely explain the mechanisms of Mayan decline. Archeological records reveal that while some Maya city-states did fall during drought periods, some survived and even thrived.

"We believe that drought was realized differently in different areas," explains Griffin. "We propose that increases in temperature and decreases in rainfall brought on by localized deforestation caused serious enough problems to push some but not all city-states over the edge."

The Maya deforested through the use of slash-and-burn agriculture - a method still used in their old stomping grounds today, so the researchers understand how it works.

"We know that for every 1 to 3 years you farm a piece of land, you need to let it lay fallow for 15 years to recover. In that time, trees and vegetation can grow back there while you slash and burn another area to plant in."

But what if you don't let the land lay fallow long enough to replenish itself? And what if you clear more and more fields to meet growing demands for food?

"We believe that's what happened," says Griffin. "The Maya stripped large areas of their landscape bare by over-farming." Not only did drought make it difficult to grow enough food, it also would have been harder for the Maya to store enough water to survive the dry season.

"The cities tried to keep an 18-month supply of water in their reservoirs," says Sever. "For example, in Tikal there was a system of reservoirs that held millions of gallons of water. Without sufficient rain, the reservoirs ran dry." Thirst and famine don't do much for keeping a populace happy. The rest, as the saying goes, is history.

"In some of the Maya city-states, mass graves have been found containing groups of skeletons with jade inlays in their teeth - something they reserved for Maya elites - perhaps in this case murdered aristocracy," he speculates.

No single factor brings a civilization to its knees, but the deforestation that helped bring on drought could easily have exacerbated other problems such as civil unrest, war, starvation and disease.

Many of these insights are a result of space-based imaging, notes Sever. "By interpreting infrared satellite data, we've located hundreds of old and abandoned cities not previously known to exist. The Maya used lime plaster as foundations to build their great cities filled with ornate temples, observatories, and pyramids. Over hundreds of years, the lime seeped into the soil. As a result, the vegetation around the ruins looks distinctive in infrared to this day."

"Space technology is revolutionizing archeology," he concludes. "We're using it to learn about the plight of ancients in order to avoid a similar fate today."
I don't know who's been going around saying the Maya were great conservationists. Reading standard popular-science archeology non-fiction, I thought it was clear that the Classic Maya were slash-and-burn agriculturalists who used up a site and moved on.
Okay, missed that one...but still, the two findings are complementary, not contradictory. The first one referred to the conservation of specific kinds of trees and how the abandonment of this conservation coincided with the decline and fall; the second referenced deforestation generally, slash and burn agriculture throughout the history and the excessive use of wood in late Maya building projects. The only conceptual difficulty lies in thinking of "the Maya" rather than "the early Maya," "the classic Maya," "the late Maya," "the ruling Maya," "the farming Maya," etc.

For that matter, since "the Maya" still exist as a culture and a people, I'm not comfortable with the tendency to use the unmodified term to refer to the historical civilization. But we're all so used to doing it, I don't expect to reform anybody on the topic.
Mayan King's Tomb Discovered in Guatemala
http://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/20 ... 222231.htm

Mayan Treasures The artifacts discovered in the ancient tomb have been preserved for approximately 1,600 years. (Credit: Arturo Godoy)

ScienceDaily (July 17, 2010) — A well-preserved tomb of an ancient Mayan king has been discovered in Guatemala by a team of archaeologists led by Brown University's Stephen Houston. The tomb is packed with carvings, ceramics, textiles, and the bones of six children, who may have been sacrificed at the time of the king's death.

The team uncovered the tomb, which dates from about 350 to 400 A.D., beneath the El Diablo pyramid in the city of El Zotz in May. The news was made public July 15 during a press conference in Guatemala City, hosted by the Ministry of Culture and Sports, which authorized the work.

Before making the actual discovery, Houston said the team thought "something odd" was happening in the deposit they were digging. They knew a small temple had been built in front of a sprawling structure dedicated to the sun god, an emblem of Maya rulership. "When we sunk a pit into the small chamber of the temple, we hit almost immediately a series of 'caches' -- blood-red bowls containing human fingers and teeth, all wrapped in some kind of organic substance that left an impression in the plaster. We then dug through layer after layer of flat stones, alternating with mud, which probably is what kept the tomb so intact and airtight."

Then on May 29, 2010, Houston was with a worker who came to a final earthen layer. "I told him to remove it, and then, a flat stone. We'd been using a small stick to probe for cavities. And, on this try, the stick went in, and in, and in. After chipping away at the stone, I saw nothing but a small hole leading into darkness."

They lowered a bare light bulb into the hole, and suddenly Houston saw "an explosion of color in all directions -- reds, greens, yellows." It was a royal tomb filled with organics Houston says he'd never seen before: pieces of wood, textiles, thin layers of painted stucco, cord.

"When we opened the tomb, I poked my head in and there was still, to my astonishment, a smell of putrification and a chill that went to my bones," Houston said. "The chamber had been so well sealed, for over 1600 years, that no air and little water had entered."

The tomb itself is about 6 feet high, 12 feet long, and four feet wide. "I can lie down comfortably in it," Houston said, "although I wouldn't want to stay there."

It appears the tomb held an adult male, but the bone analyst, Andrew Scherer, assistant professor of anthropology at Brown, has not yet confirmed the finding. So far, it seems likely that there are six children in the tomb, some with whole bodies and probably two solely with skulls.

And who was this man? Though the findings are still very new, the group believes the tomb is likely from a king they only know about from other hieroglyphic texts -- one of Houston's specialties in Maya archaeology. "These items are artistic riches, extraordinarily preserved from a key time in Maya history," said Houston. "From the tomb's position, time, richness, and repeated constructions atop the tomb, we believe this is very likely the founder of a dynasty."

Houston says the tomb shows that the ruler is going into the tomb as a ritual dancer. He has all the attributes of this role, including many small 'bells' of shell with, probably, dog canines as clappers. There is a chance too, that his body, which rested on a raised bier that collapsed to the floor, had an elaborate headdress with small glyphs on them. One of his hands may have held a sacrificial blade."

The stone expert on site, Zachary Hruby, suspects the blade was used for cutting and grinding through bone or some other hard material. Its surface seems to be covered with red organic residue. Though the substance still needs to be tested, "it doesn't take too much imagination to think that this is blood," Houston said.

"We still have a great deal of work to do," Houston said. "Remember, we've only been out of the field for a few weeks and we're still catching our breath after a very difficult, technical excavation. Royal tombs are hugely dense with information and require years of study to understand. No other deposits come close."

Houston, a 2008 MacArthur fellow, is the Dupee Family Professor of Social Science and professor of anthropology at Brown.

Houston's co-director of the site is Edwin Román. He is working with a group of Brown graduate students and researchers, including Thomas Garrison, a former postdoctoral fellow at the Joukowsky Institute and the Department of Anthropology, and graduate students Sarah Newman, Nick Carter, James Doyle, Alex Knodell, and Alex Smith. Scherer, the bone analyst, is working with graduate student Kate Blankenship and undergraduate Morgan Ritter-Armour on the laboratory portion of the analysis.

Story Source:

The above story is reprinted (with editorial adaptations by ScienceDaily staff) from materials provided by Brown University.
Ancient Mayans Inspire Modern Fade Proof Dye
July 30th, 2010 in Physics / Condensed Matter

Physicists have created a dye that promises to last for a thousand years. The secret to this extraordinary durability? Its formula is based on a Mayan pigment, a brilliant blue color that survives to this day on the walls of their ancient temples.

"This pigment has been stable for centuries in the hostile conditions of the jungle," said Eric Dooryhee at the Brookhaven National Laboratory in Upton, N.Y. "We're trying to mimic it to make new materials."

Dooryhee and team of French physicists have spent years studying historical objects using X-rays. They shoot finely-tuned beams of X-rays from a synchrotron machine -- much stronger than a dental X-ray -- at these materials and look at the pattern of scattered X-rays coming out in order to determine the structure of the atoms inside.

The scientists have used this technology to examine Egyptian cosmetics, Roman pottery, and Renaissance paintings. They have recreated some of these ancient materials and are just beginning to learn how to borrow their strengths to make new modern "archeomimetic" materials that can stand the test of time.

Unlike most organic pigments, which tend to break down over time, the pigment Maya Blue is remarkably resistant -- not only to natural weathering, heat, and light, but also to strong acids and solvents in the laboratory.

Pre-Columbian Mesoamericans, who lived in Central America before the first Spaniards arrived, developed the pigment about 1700 years ago. Archaeologists rediscovered it in 1931 at the site of the ancient Mayan capitol Chichen Itza.

The Mayans used the pigment in art and in rituals to bring the rains. Recent evidence suggests they painted sacrificial objects and human victims blue and threw them down a deep natural well called the Sacred Cenote, thought to be the home of the rain god Chaak.

The pigment was made by burning incense made from tree resin and using the heat to cook a mixture of indigo plants and a type of clay called palygorskite. A bowl retrieved from the Sacred Cenote revealed traces of all of these materials, each of which was considered to be a healing substance by the Mayans.

"By offering incense to Chaak, they were combining two healing components," said Dean Arnold, an anthropologist at Wheaton College in Ill. who examined the bowl. "This was ritually significant because the rain healed their land."

Now the physicists' X-ray beams and other measurements have revealed the secrets behind this recipe's remarkable longevity and durability. As the mixture was heated, indigo molecules filled a network of tiny channels inside the clay. Some of these bits of indigo plugged the pores on the surface, preventing the color from escaping over time.

The clay, in turn, protects the indigo from the environment. Harsh chemicals can destroy a sensitive bond within indigo molecules -- changing the color from blue to yellow. Like the double-parked car that prevents you from opening the driver-side door to your own car, the clay channels take up the space around the bond, blocking these chemicals.

After looking for other kinds of clay-like materials with similar structures, Dooryhee and colleague successfully combined indigo with a porous substance called zeolite -- widely used in commercial products as diverse as cement, laundry detergents, nutritional supplements, and cat litter -- to make a new kind of long-lasting blue pigment.

The team hopes to use this new material to restore paintings and is considering other applications such as colored cement, said Dooryhee.

Provided by Inside Science News Service
Mayan Water Reservoir in Mexican Rainforest: Archaeologists Find Huge Artificial Lake With Ceramic-Lined Floor
http://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/20 ... 083803.htm

Uncovering the water reservoir's floor. (Credit: Proyecto Arqueológico Uxul)

ScienceDaily (Aug. 27, 2010) — Archaeologists from the University of Bonn have found a water reservoir the size of a soccer field, whose floor is lined with ceramic shards, in the Mexican rainforest. It seems that in combination with the limestone on top, the shards were supposed to seal the artificial lake. The system was built about 1,500 years ago. It is the first example of this design found for the Maya. It is not yet known whether the reservoir's entire floor is tiled.

Since 2009, researchers from Bonn and Mexico have been systematically uncovering and mapping the old walls of Uxul, a Mayan city. "In the process, we also came across two, about 100 m square water reservoirs," explained Iken Paap, who directs the project with Professor Dr. Nikolai Grube and the Mexican archaeologist Antonio Benavides Castillo.

Such monster pools, which are also known from other Mayan cities, are called "aguadas." Similar to present-day water towers, they served to store drinking water. But the people of Uxul seem to have thought of a particularly smart way to seal their aguada. "We conducted a trial dig in the center of one of the water reservoirs," explains Nicolaus Seefeld, a young scholar. "We found that the bottom, which is at a depth of two meters, was covered with ceramic shards -- probably from plates -- practically without any gaps. But we don't know yet whether it's like this throughout the entire aguada."

If so, that would be a minor sensation -- merely due to the quantity of ceramics required. The aguadas in Uxul were each as large as ten Olympic-size pools. Maybe there used to be even more artificial lakes. After all, the precious commodity had to be enough to last a population of at least 2,000 through the 3-month dry season.

The Mayan term "uxul," by the way, means "at the end" in English. Karl Ruppert and John H. Denison from the Carnegie Institution of Washington, who discovered the city, had named it that in 1934 -- exhausted and sick after a long expedition through the jungles of Mexico's Yucatán peninsula. The city's original name remains unknown to this day.

If Uxul was "at the end of the world" in the 1930's, not much has changed today. "You can only get to the ruins via 120 km of jungle paths clear across the Calakmul Biosphere Reserve, far from modern roads and settlements," explains Dr. Iken Paap. These are difficult conditions for the archaeologists and the German-Mexican excavation team. This year, they spent three months in the forest to explore the Mayan city.

Flourishing trade center

What is becoming more and more obvious as the excavations progress is the fact that Uxul was nowhere near "at the end" or isolated in the jungle during its heyday in the Classical period (250 to 900 A.D.): Uxul was located in a densely populated area between the big Mayan cities of El Mirador to the south and Calakmul to the northeast. It had trade connections as far as present-day southern Guatemala and the Central Mexican Plateau.

Uxul was settled for several epochs of the Mayan culture. So much was concluded by the Bonn scholars after analyzing the dig and its settlement layers. "This year, we were able to excavate a sequence of layers that was over three meters deep, ranging probably from the late Pre- to the End- or Post-Classical periods," explains Iken Paap.

Inscriptions report that, around 630 A.D., Uxul was annexed under the rule of Calakmul, which was at a distance of about 26 kilometers. To what extent was life in the city and the surrounding area affected and influenced by such changes in power? Did Uxul have its own trade connections that continued to exist during Calakmul's rule? Did the population experience the crises of the elites directly in their own daily lives? Or were these disputes between the ruling powers, which have been given more importance due to being recorded on steles and altars than they were accorded by contemporary strata of the population?

"This Spring for the first time we found tombs that had not been destroyed by grave robbers in their search for ceramics and jade jewelry," said Professor Dr. Nikolai Grube. "We are hoping that this and new studies on the drinking water system and history of vegetation will provide us with new insights into the living situation of the population of this Mayan city."

Story Source:

The above story is reprinted (with editorial adaptations by ScienceDaily staff) from materials provided by University of Bonn, via AlphaGalileo.
We have just returned from Mexico a few days ago, and during the holiday visited Chichen Itza. What an amazing site. However, what really sparked my imagination was that archaeologists were working in trenches adjacent to the base of one side and have discovered massive new stoneworks which indicate the pyramid may be far larger than first thought. Or, there is an entirely new series of buildings/temples still to be uncovered.

http://s935.photobucket.com/albums/ad20 ... o/Fortean/

Were Mayan pyramids echo machines?

An acoustics expert is making the claim that Mayan pyramids were built to be echo machines, used to inspire spiritual feelings.

In 1998, Lubman published a Journal of the Acoustical Society of America study suggesting that when someone claps in front of the ” El Castillo” pyramid at the famous site of Chichen Itza in Mexico’s Yucatan, a chirp echo results that sounds like the song of a quetzal bird. Subsequent studies supported the idea, and gave rise to hordes of tourists now clapping away in front of the famous monument, once a temple to the feathered snake god, Kukulkan.

http://www.usatoday.com/tech/science/co ... mids_N.htm
Along the lines of the above...

Ancient Maya Temples Were Giant Loudspeakers?
Complexes may have used acoustic design to broadcast—and disorient./

Centuries before the first speakers and subwoofers, ancient Americans—intentionally or not—may have been turning buildings into giant sound amplifiers and distorters to enthrall or disorient audiences, archaeologists say.

Temples at the ancient Maya city of Palenque (map) in central Mexico, for example, might have formed a kind of "unplugged" public-address system, projecting sound across great distances, according to a team led by archaeologist Francisca Zalaquett of the Universidad Nacional Autónoma de México. (See an interactive map of the Maya civilization.)

Zalaquett's team recently discovered that Palenque's Northern Group of public squares and temples—built around roughly A.D. 600—is especially good at projecting the human voice as well as sounds like those that would have been made by musical instruments found at the site.

The Maya built many types of musical instruments, including rattling gourds filled with seeds or stones, turtle shells played with deer antlers, as well as whistles, ocarinas, modified seashells, and other wind instruments, said Zalaquett, who presented the Palenque findings at a recent meeting of the Acoustical Society of America in Cancún, Mexico.

(Also see "Was Maya Pyramid Designed to Chirp Like a Bird?")

Performers and priests may have stood atop these temples or in specialized projection rooms, which still exist, to broadcast songs and chants throughout the squares. The Maya are known to have to held public rites to commemorate enthronements, births of nobles, and war victories as well as to honor deities, Zalaquett said. etc etc etc

http://news.nationalgeographic.com/news ... y-science/
Maya calendar and culture

PeniG said:
Ask them. They're still there. The civilization died. The Mayans trundled on. They're Catholics now, and I think the calendar died with the civilization, but the oral history of modern Mayans is an underavailable resource.

Their calendar certainly didn't die - I know Guatemala rather well, and have the advantage of speaking fluent Spanish. I semi-regularly set off to visit Maya ruins that I haven't visited before and in early 2007 I set off for the remote Maya village of San Mateo Ixtatán to see some unexcavated ruins there. It was a long, arduous journey and took us 2 days to get there from the nearest city but it is probably easier now, since I believe a tarmacked road has now replaced the dirt road that my wife and I used to get there. We linked up with a local friend-of-a-friend Maya who acted as our guide, and during the course of our conversation we accidentally stumbled upon the fact that the locals still use the Maya Short Count calendar. My wife asked a simple enough question, "How often do you hold the market in the village" and the reply was "Well, once a month, but we don't use the same month as you, our month is twenty days long." The gentleman also told us stories of the local families that go back to before the Spanish Conquest, with why certain ruins were built and rivalries between clans etc. Maya historians and archaeologists really should listen to the stuff the locals say about these places.

Sadly, if the road was completed and the village opened to easier access, I don't think these traditional beliefs and calendar use will last long under the onslaught of modern society.

I believe variations of this Short Count Maya calendar are in use across the remoter parts of the Guatemalan Highlands, particularly by Maya "shamans". Their beliefs weren't annihilated by the Catholics, but were blended with Catholic belief. Many Maya gods live on under the guise of superficially Catholic saints with rather un-Catholic practices attached. I once went into a church that looked Catholic to find a massive cross plastered with the blood and feathers of sacrificed chickens!
Scientists Explore Hidden World of Ancient Maritime Maya
http://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/20 ... 080535.htm

Explorers sit atop the ancient Maya pyramid at Vista Alegre. The pyramid stands 35-feet tall and may have been used by Maya lookouts to monitor approaching and departing canoes. (Credit: Image courtesy of Proyecto Costa Escondida Maritime Maya 2011 Expedition, NOAA-OER)

ScienceDaily (May 23, 2011) — NOAA-sponsored explorers are searching a wild, largely unexplored and forgotten coastline for evidence and artifacts of one of the greatest seafaring traditions of the ancient New World, where Maya traders once paddled massive dugout canoes filled with trade goods from across Mexico and Central America. One exploration goal is to discover the remains of a Maya trading canoe, described in A.D. 1502 by Christopher Columbus' son Ferdinand, as holding 25 paddlers plus cargo and passengers.

Through the end of May, the team is exploring the remote jungle, mangrove forests and lagoons at the ancient port site of Vista Alegre ("happy view" in Spanish) where the Caribbean meets the Gulf of Mexico at the northeastern tip of the Yucatan Peninsula. Scientists believe the port was part of an important trading network and was used at various times between about 800 B.C. and A.D. 1521, the date scholars use to designate the start of Spanish rule.

"The maritime Maya have been described much like ancient seagoing Phoenicians. They traded extensively in a wide variety of goods, such as bulk cotton and salt, and likely incense from tree sap called copal, jade, obsidian, cacao, Quetzal and other tropical bird feathers, and even slaves," said Dominique Rissolo, Ph.D., expedition co-chief scientist and director of the Waitt Institute in La Jolla, Calif. "Maya trade was far-ranging between the Veracruz coast of modern Mexico and the Gulf of Honduras, with each port a link in a chain connecting people and ideas. Yet there is still much to learn about the extensive history and importance of the maritime Maya and how they adapted to life by the sea."

"Maritime economies were strengthened and far-ranging trade routes were established between A.D. 850 and 1100," said Jeffrey Glover, Ph.D., expedition co-chief scientist with Georgia State University's Department of Anthropology in Atlanta. "It was during this time when the Maya at Chichen Itza relied increasingly on maritime commerce to maintain and extend control over much of the Yucatan peninsula. The period most associated with Maya seafaring followed, between A.D. 1100 and 1521."

Recent archaeological work at Vista Alegre included completion of an architectural map of the site, test excavations to obtain cultural materials, and a 13-mile reconnaissance of coastal environments that revealed a number of small ancient and historical sites and cultural features.

During expeditions at the port site in 2005 and 2008, explorers mapped 29 structures including platforms, mounds, raised causeways, and a concrete-filled 35-foot tall, steep-sided pyramid that dominates the central plaza and appears to have been heavily damaged by hurricanes. Explorers believe the summit of the pyramid was also used by lookouts to monitor approaching and departing canoes. In addition to the features on the island, a narrow walkway connects the port to a collapsed and looted temple 0.8 miles away on the mainland.

The expedition team also includes co-chief scientists Patricia Beddows, Ph.D., of Northwestern University's Department of Earth and Planetary Sciences in Evanston, Illinois; Beverly Goodman, Ph.D., of the Leon Charnet School of Marines Sciences at the University of Haifa, Israel; and Derek Smith, of the University of Washington Department of Biology. Emily McDonald of NOAA's Office of Ocean Exploration and Research is on the team to coordinate Web coverage.

Two scientists from Mexico and a small number of U.S. students will join parts of the expedition, which will also provide post-expedition technical reports to the Mexican National Institute of Anthropology and History. A goal of the exploration is to enable Mexico to better protect and preserve its coastal and submerged cultural resources.

The explorers are contending with many of the same challenges that faced ancient Maya seafarers, including shelter -- as some team members will be in tents and slung hammocks -- the remoteness of the area that is accessible only by boat, the scarcity of fresh water, the possibility of tropical storms, and the danger and nuisance of a variety of local inhabitants, including mosquitoes, snakes, spiders and crocodiles.

"The Maya largely had to live off the land in this remote area where they found and used resources to survive. Like them, we have to search for scarce fresh water, but our challenges are more about making the research work in less than optimal conditions. It will involve some good MacGyvering," said Glover, referring to the television actor who used ingenuity and materials at hand to invent his way out of a fix.

The expedition is part of Proyecto Costa Escondida (Hidden Coast Project), a long-term interdisciplinary research effort co-directed by Glover and Rissolo and focused on the dynamic relationship between the Maya and their coastal landscape.

Story Source:

The above story is reprinted (with editorial adaptations by ScienceDaily staff) from materials provided by National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration.
Vid at link.

Video camera reveals secrets of ancient Mayan tomb

A tiny remote-controlled camera peers inside the Mayan tomb

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The inside of a Mayan tomb thought to be 1,500 years old has been filmed by archaeologists for the first time.

Using a tiny video camera, the researchers were able to capture images of the burial chamber in Palenque in south-eastern Mexico.

As the device was lowered 16ft (5m) down into the tomb, they saw red paint and black figures emblazoned on its walls.

The scientists say the images will shed new light on the Mayan civilisation.

Royal necropolis?
The tomb in Palenque was discovered in 1999, but archaeologists have not been able to excavate for fear of undermining the pyramid.

Continue reading the main story

Start Quote

It is very probable that the fragmented bones are lying directly on the stones of the floor”

Mexico's National Institute of Anthropology and Histor
Palenque was a Mayan city-state in what is now Mexico's Chiapas state, but after its decline during the 8th Century AD it was absorbed into the jungle.

It has been extensively excavated, in particular over the past two decades, but much of it remains to be uncovered.

Mexico's National Institute of Anthropology and History (Inah) said its archaeologists had been aware of the tomb for more than a decade, but had not been able to examine it.

"Its difficult location and the work to consolidate the plinth had until now impeded penetration into the enclosure, which jealously guards the remains of a very important person from this ancient Mayan city," the Inah said in a statement.

It said that the researchers overcame the difficulties by lowering the remote-controlled camera the size of a matchbox down along a narrow shaft into the largely intact chamber.

Inside, the camera revealed nine black figures painted on blood-red walls, along with jade and shell fragments, which are believed to be part of a funerary costume.

But unlike in other tombs in Palenque, no sarcophagus has been found. "It is very probable that the fragmented bones are lying directly on the stones of the floor," Inah said.

Experts say the tomb probably dates to between AD431 and 550, and could belong to the first ruler of Palenque - K'uk Bahlam I.

Another theory is that it could even belong to Ix Yohl Ik'nal, the city's early female ruler.

Archaeologist Martha Cuevas said the tomb's proximity to other burial sites suggested it may be part of a royal necropolis.
Mayan city ... in Georgia USA

Maya site discovered in Georgia's mountainsExaminer.com
Track Rock Gap, near Georgia’s highest mountain, Brasstown Bald, is a half mile (800 m) square and rises 700 feet (213 m) in elevation up a steep mountainside. Visible are at least 154 stone masonry walls for agricultural terraces, plus evidence of a sophisticated irrigation system and ruins of several other stone structures. Much more may be hidden underground. It is possibly the site of the fabled city of Yupaha, which Spanish explorer Hernando de Soto failed to find in 1540,
I knew that the Mayans expanded out of Central America but never realised they got so far north.
In 1999 archaeologist Mark Williams of the University of Georgia and Director of the LAMAR Institute, led an archaeological survey of the Kenimer Mound, which is on the southeast side of Brasstown Bald in the Nacoochee Valley. Residents in the nearby village of Sautee generally assume that the massive five-sided pyramidal mound is a large wooded hill. Williams found that the mound had been partially sculpted out of an existing hill then sculpted into a final form with clay. He estimated the construction date to be no later than 900 AD. Williams was unable to determine who built the mound.
In July of 2011, Waldrup furnished a copy of the 2000 Stratum Unlimited, LLC archaeological report to People of One Fire members. Those with experiences at Maya town sites instantly recognized that the Track Rock stone structures were identical in form to numerous agricultural terrace sites in Chiapas, Guatemala, Belize and Honduras. Johannes Loubser’s radiocarbon dates exactly matched the diaspora from the Maya lands and the sudden appearance of large towns with Mesoamerican characteristics in Georgia, Alabama and southeastern Tennessee. Track Rock Gap was the “missing link” that archaeologists and architects had been seeking since 1841.

Fair use note - quotations limited to 3 paragraphs from the original article "Massive 1,100+ year old Maya site discovered in Georgia's mountains" by Richard Thornton but there is much more meat to be had at the link.
The Mark Williams mentioned in the article is currently comment number 1... :lol:
I've seen some of the "Indian Mounds" here in Georgia and they sure don't seem Mayan to me...


Mayan Ruins in Georgia? Archeologist Objects
By NED POTTER | Good Morning America – 16 hours ago

The textbooks will tell you that the Mayan people thrived in Central America from about 250 to 900 A.D., building magnificent temples in Guatemala, Honduras, Belize and southern Mexico.

But could they possibly have left stone ruins in the mountains of North Georgia? Richard Thornton thinks so. He says he's an architect by training, but has been researching the history of native people in and around Georgia for years. On Examiner.com, he wrote about an 1,100-year-old archeological site near Georgia's highest mountain, Brasstown Bald, that he said "is possibly the site of the fabled city of Yupaha, which Spanish explorer Hernando de Soto failed to find in 1540."

This might all be fairly arcane stuff, except that an archeologist he cited, Mark Williams of the University of Georgia, took exception. In the comments section after Thornton's piece, he wrote, "I am the archaeologist Mark Williams mentioned in this article. This is total and complete bunk. There is no evidence of Maya in Georgia. Move along now."

Immediately the story exploded. In comments on Examiner, as well as on Facebook and in emails, users piled on. One woman called Williams "completely pompous and arrogant." A man wrote he was "completely disrespectful to the Public at large." Another said he would urge the state of Georgia to cut off funding for Williams' academic department at the university.

All of this left Thornton, who writes often about the Maya for Examiner.com, "dumfounded."

"I actually was giving Williams a plug," he said in an interview with ABC News. "I've got a regular readership, but this thing just went viral."

Thornton, who said he is Georgia Creek Indian by birth, volunteered that doing research about Mesoamerican culture in the U.S. has been a difficult way to make a living. For nine months before the Examiner hired him, he said he was so poor he had to live out of a tent. He said he now makes money by writing online and lecturing.

Some of his conclusions about the Mayan connection to the southern U.S., he said, are based on oral history. There are place names in Georgia and North Carolina, he said, that are very similar to Mayan words. And the ruins near Brasstown Bald, he said, include mounds and irrigation terraces similar to those found at Mayan settlements in Central America.

Williams, the doubting archeologist, had many online defenders. "While there are many, many compelling parallels between Central American and North American indigenous mythologies," wrote one, "that does not mean there was direct evidence that the post-Classic Period Collapse Maya emigrated all the way to Georgia."

Williams stood his ground against Thornton's suggestion that Brasstown Bald has any Mayan roots. "The sites are certainly those of Native Americans of prehistoric Georgia," he wrote in an email. "Wild theories are not new, but the web simply spreads them faster than ever."
First physical evidence of tobacco in a Mayan container
http://www.physorg.com/news/2012-01-phy ... mayan.html
January 11th, 2012 in Other Sciences / Archaeology & Fossils

A Mayan vessel holds the first physical evidence of tobacco in the ancient culture. Credit: Library of Congress

A scientist at Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute and an anthropologist from the University at Albany teamed up to use ultra-modern chemical analysis technology at Rensselaer to analyze ancient Mayan pottery for proof of tobacco use in the ancient culture. Dmitri Zagorevski, director of the Proteomics Core in the Center for Biotechnology and Interdisciplinary Studies (CBIS) at Rensselaer, and Jennifer Loughmiller-Newman, a doctoral candidate at the University at Albany, have discovered the first physical evidence of tobacco in a Mayan container. Their discovery represents new evidence on the ancient use of tobacco in the Mayan culture and a new method to understand the ancient roots of tobacco use in the Americas.
Their research will appear in the journal Rapid Communications in Mass Spectrometry, in an article titled "The detection of nicotine in a Late Mayan period flask by GCMS and LCMS methods."

In recent years, archaeologists have begun to use chemical analysis of residues from ancient pottery, tools, and even mummies in an attempt to piece together minute clues about ancient civilizations. Among the potential problems with isolating a residue for analysis is preservation and contamination. Many vessels serve multiple purposes during their lives, resulting in muddled chemical data. Once the vessels are discarded, natural processes such as bacteria and water can destroy the surface of materials, erasing important evidence. Additionally, researchers must be attentive to archaeological field handling and laboratory treatment of the artifacts that might lead to cross contamination by modern sources.

To make their discovery, the researchers had a unique research opportunity: a more than 1,300-year-old vessel decorated with hieroglyphics that seemingly indicated the intended contents. Additionally, the interior of the vessel had not been cleaned, leaving the interior unmodified and the residue protected from contamination.

The approximately two-and-a-half-inch wide and high clay vessel bears Mayan hieroglyphics, reading "the home of his/her tobacco." The vessel, part of the large Kislak Collection housed at the Library of Congress, was made around 700 A.D. in the region of the Mirador Basin, in Southern Campeche, Mexico, during the Classic Mayan period. Tobacco use has long been associated with the Mayans, thanks to previously deciphered hieroglyphics and illustrations showing smoking gods and people, but physical evidence of the activity is exceptionally limited, according to the researchers.

Zagorevski used the technology within CBIS at Rensselaer, usually reserved to study modern diseases and proteins, to analyze the contents of the vessel for the chemical fingerprint of tobacco. The technology included gas chromatography mass spectrometry (GCMS) and high-performance liquid chromatography mass spectrometry (LCMS). Both are analytical chemistry techniques that combine the physical separation capabilities of gas or liquid chromatography with the analysis capabilities of mass spectrometry. The latter is used to determine molecular weights of compounds, their elemental composition, and structural characteristics.

Zagorevski and Loughmiller-Newman's analysis of the vessel found nicotine, an important component of tobacco in residues scrapped from the container. Both techniques confirmed the presence of nicotine. In addition, three oxidation products of nicotine were also discovered. Nicotine oxidation occurs naturally as the nicotine in tobacco is exposed to air and bacteria. None of the nicotine byproducts associated with the smoking of tobacco were found in the vessel, indicating that the vessel housed unsmoked tobacco leaves (possibly powered tobacco) and was not used as an ash tray. No other evidence of nicotine has been found, at this time, in any of the other vessels in the collection.

This discovery "provides rare and unequivocal evidence for agreement between a vessel's actual content and a specific ichnographic or hieroglyphic representation of that content (on the same vessel)," Loughmiller-Newman states in the paper. She is in the anthropology department at the University at Albany, studying ritual food stuff consumed by the Mayans.

Both Loughmiller-Newman and Zagorevski would like to see this technique used to analyze a greater variety of vessel types.

Provided by Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute
Mexico mass grave was 'ancient cemetery' in Chiapas

Anthropologists said the skulls did not show signs of a violent death

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Anthropologists in Mexico say the remains of 167 bodies found in a cave in the southern state of Chiapas were part of an ancient burial ground.

The National Anthropology Institute said tests showed the remains dated back to the eighth century.

Scientists hope pottery found in the cave will help them determine the community those buried belonged to.

It was first feared the bodies could belong to victims of the decades-long civil war in neighbouring Guatemala.

Farmers had found the bodies in a cave on the Nuevo Ojo de Agua ranch, some 20km (11 miles) from the Guatemalan border, and alerted the authorities.

Initial tests suggested the bodies were at least 50 years old, leading some activists in Guatemala to speculate they may have belonged to victims of the 1960-1996 civil conflict.

But forensic experts have since said the skulls showed signs of a deformation typical of native communities dating back 1,000 years and more.

The Maya people who thrived in the region for nearly 2,000 years used planks to flatten and elongate the skulls of their children.

Anthropologists continue to examine the remains in an effort to determine the sex, age and ethnic make-up of the bodies.