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The Mayans: Discoveries & Theories

Well, this topic is called New Mayan Discoveries & Theories. Now you might think thats reason enough to post a new Mayan discovery on it. But thats not good enough for some dour people here. So I'll just note that the discovery of the largest dam built by Mayans is of fortean interest. Imho.

Archaeologists uncover largest ancient dam built by Maya in Central America
July 16th, 2012 in Other Sciences / Archaeology & Fossils

This image shows excavation of the dam identified by the UC-led team. A collapsed sluice gate is outlined in red. Credit: University of Cincinnati researchers
Recent excavations, sediment coring and mapping by a multi-university team led by the University of Cincinnati at the pre-Columbian city of Tikal, a paramount urban center of the ancient Maya, have identified new landscaping and engineering feats, including the largest ancient dam built by the Maya of Central America.

That dam – constructed from cut stone, rubble and earth – stretched more than 260 feet in length, stood about 33 feet high and held about 20 million gallons of water in a man-made reservoir.

These findings on ancient Maya water and land-use systems at Tikal, located in northern Guatemala, are scheduled to appear this week in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences (PNAS) in an article titled "Water and Sustainable Land Use at the Ancient Tropical City of Tikal, Guatemala." The research sheds new light on how the Maya conserved and used their natural resources to support a populous, highly complex society for over 1,500 years despite environmental challenges, including periodic drought.

The paper is authored by Vernon Scarborough, UC professor of anthropology; Nicholas Dunning, UC professor of geography; archaeologist Kenneth Tankersley, UC assistant professor of anthropology; Christopher Carr, UC doctoral student in geography; Eric Weaver, UC doctoral student in geography; Liwy Grazioso of the Universidad de San Carlos de Guatemala; Brian Lane, former UC master's student in anthropology now pursuing doctoral studies at the University of Hawaii; John Jones, associate professor of anthropology, Washington State University; Palma Buttles, technical staff senior member, SEI Carnegie Mellon University; Fred Valdez, professor of anthropology, University of Texas-Austin; and David Lentz, UC professor of biology.

Starting in 2009, the UC team was the first North American group permitted to work at the Tikal site core in more than 40 years.

These are veneer stones of the dam identified by the UC researchers. What was once thought to be a sluice is outlined in red and is now filled with slump-down debris. Credit: University of Cincinnati researchers

Detailed in the latest findings by the UC-led efforts are:

The largest ancient dam built by the ancient Maya of Central America

Discussion on how reservoir waters were likely released

Details on the construction of a cofferdam needed by the Maya to dredge one of the largest reservoirs at Tikal

The presence of ancient springs linked to the initial colonization of Tikal

Use of sand filtration to cleanse water entering reservoirs

A "switching station" that accommodated seasonal filling and release of water
Finding of the deepest, rock-cut canal segment in the Maya lowlands
According to UC's Scarborough, "The overall goal of the UC research is to better understand how the ancient Maya supported a population at Tikal of perhaps 60,000 to 80,000 inhabitants and an estimated population of five million in the overall Maya lowlands by AD 700."

He added, "That is a much higher number than is supported by the current environment. So, they managed to sustain a populous, highly complex society for well over 1,500 years in a tropical ecology. Their resource needs were great, but they used only stone-age tools and technology to develop a sophisticated, long-lasting management system in order to thrive."

Water collection and storage were critical in the environment where rainfall is seasonal and extended droughts not uncommon. And so, the Maya carefully integrated the built environment – expansive plazas, roadways, buildings and canals – into a water-collection and management system. At Tikal, they collected literally all the water that fell onto these paved and/or plastered surfaces and sluiced it into man-made reservoirs. For instance, the city's plastered plaza and courtyard surfaces and canals were canted in order to direct and retain rainwater runoff into these tanks.

In fact, by the Classic Period (AD 250-800), the dam (called the Palace Dam) identified by the UC-led team was constructed to contain the waters that were now directed from the many sealed plaster surfaces in the central precinct. It was this dam on which the team focused its latest work, completed in 2010. This gravity dam presents the largest hydraulic architectural feature known in the Maya area. In terms of greater Mesoamerica, it is second in size only to the huge Purron Dam built in Mexico's Tehuacan Valley sometime between AD 250-400.

Said Scarborough, "We also termed the Palace Dam at Tikal the Causeway Dam, as the top of the structure served as a roadway linking one part of the city to another. For a long time, it was considered primarily a causeway, one that tourists coming to the site still use today. However, our research now shows that it did double duty and was used as an important reservoir dam as well as a causeway."

This is a view of a Maya-built canal. Pictured is Guatemalan researcher Liwy Grazioso, who has participated in the work by a UC-led team. Credit: University of Cincinnati researchers

Another discovery by the UC-led team: To help purify water as it sluiced into the reservoir tanks via catchment runoff and canals, the Maya employed deliberately positioned "sand boxes" that served to filter the water as it entered into the reservoirs. "These filtration beds consisted of quartz sand, which is not naturally found in the greater Tikal area. The Maya of Tikal traveled at least 20 miles (about 30 kilometers) to obtain the quartz sand to create their water filters. It was a fairly laborious transportation effort. That speaks to the value they placed on water and water management," said UC's Nicholas Dunning.

According to UC's Ken Tankersley, "It's likely that the overall system of reservoirs and early water-diversion features, which were highly adaptable and resilient over a long stretch, helped Tikal and some other centers survive periodic droughts when many other settlement sites had to be abandoned due to lack of rainfall."
UC paleoethnobotanist David Lentz explained that the sophisticated water management practiced by the ancient Maya impacted the availability of food, fuel, medicinal plants and other necessities. He said, "Water management by the Maya included irrigation, which directly impacted how many people could be fed and overall population growth. Accordingly, it is essential to understand the array of canals and reservoirs at Tikal, which conserved water during the annual dry season and controlled floodwaters during the rainy months. These practices allowed the Tikal Maya to sustain relatively high population densities for several centuries. As it evolved, this system of reservoirs was largely dependent on rainfall for recharging. With the onset of the 9th century droughts however, water supplies dwindled, causing the resource base and social fabric of the Tikal Maya to come under considerable stress. These developments may well have contributed to the abandonment of the city."

Of significance to Scarborough and the entire team are the potential lessons that can be gleaned from identifying a water system like that at ancient Tikal. Said Scarborough, "Water management in the ancient context can be dismissed as less relevant to our current water crisis because of its lack of technological sophistication. Nevertheless, in many areas of the world today, the energy requirements for even simple pumping and filtering devices – to say nothing about replacement-part acquisition – challenges access to potable sources. Tropical settings can be especially difficult regions because of high infectious disease loads borne by unfiltered water schemes. The ancient Maya, however, developed a clever rainwater catchment and delivery system based on elevated, seasonally charged reservoirs positioned in immediate proximity to the grand pavements and pyramidal architecture of their urban cores. Allocation and potability were developmental concerns from the outset of colonization. Perhaps the past can fundamentally inform the present, if we, too, can be clever."

More information: “Water and sustainable land use at the ancient tropical city of Tikal, Guatemala,” by Vernon Scarborough et al. PNAS, 2012.
Provided by University of Cincinnati

"Archaeologists uncover largest ancient dam built by Maya in Central America." July 16th, 2012.
http://phys.org/news/2012-07-archaeolog ... built.html
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Mayan Tomb May Belong to Warrior Queen
By Megan Gannon, News Editor | LiveScience.com

Archaeologists say they've discovered what could be the tomb of one of the greatest Mayan rulers, the seventh-century warrior queen Lady K'abel.

The tomb was revealed during digging at the ancient Maya city of El Perú-Waka' in the rain forest of northern Guatemala. Alongside the body, excavators found a white jar shaped like a conch shell with the head and arm of a woman carved at the opening. The artifact had four hieroglyphs that suggest it belonged to K'abel.

"Nothing is ever proven in archaeology because we're working with circumstantial evidence. But in our case we have a carved stone alabaster jar that is named K'abel's possession," David Freidel, an archaeologist working on the site, explained in a video. Freidel, of Washington University in St. Louis, said the find is "as close to a smoking gun" as you get in archaeology.

The plazas, palaces, temple pyramids and residences of El Perú-Waka' belong to the Classic Maya civilization (A.D. 200-900). K'abel was part of a royal family and carried the title "Kaloomte'," which translates to "Supreme Warrior," meaning she had even higher in authority than her king husband, K'inich Bahlam, according to Freidel and his excavation team. K'abel is believed to have reigned with him from about A.D. 672-692.

Ceramic vessels found in the burial chamber and carvings on a stela (stone slab) outside of it also indicate the tomb belongs to K’abel, as does a large red spiny oyster shell found on the lower torso of the remains, the researchers said.

"Late Classic queens at Waka', including K'abel, regularly wore such a shell as a girdle ornament in their stela portraits while kings did not," the researchers wrote in a report on the finds.

An examination of the remains indicated the buried person was a "mature individual," the researchers wrote. But the bones were too deteriorated for scientists to determine whether they belonged to a male or female.

Excavations have been underway at El Perú-Waka' since 2003. The K'abel find has not yet appeared in a peer-reviewed scientific journal.

SOURCE: http://news.yahoo.com/mayan-tomb-may-be ... 07816.html
Mexico: Mayan ball court was celestial 'marker'

By MARK STEVENSON | Associated Press

MEXICO CITY (AP) — Mexican archaeologists say they have determined that the ancient Mayas built watchtower-style structures atop the ceremonial ball court at the temples of Chichen Itza to observe the equinoxes and solstices, and they said Friday that the discovery adds to understanding of the many layers of ritual significance that the ball game had for the culture.

The structures sit atop the low walls of the court, where the Mayas played a game that consisted, as far as experts can tell, of knocking a heavy, latex ball with their elbows, knees or hips, through a stone ring set in the walls.

The bases of the structures — essentially, look-out boxes set atop the walls, each one with a small slit running through it —had been detected before, but archaeologist hadn't been sure what they were used for. Since the ball court was built around 864 A.D., the boxes and the stairs leading to them had crumbled.

The government's National Institute of Anthropology and History announced Thursday that the boxes had been 90-percent reconstructed, based on the stone footings that remained. Late last year and early this year, a team led by archaeologist Jose Huchim confirmed that the sun shone through the slit-like openings when the setting sun touches the horizon at the winter solstice.

The sun's rays also formed a diagonal pattern at the equinox in the slit-like openings, which are about tall enough to stand up in.

Huchim said he knew of no similar structures at other Mayan ball courts. "This is the place where we're finding this type of pasaje (structure)," Huchim said. He said a stone structure atop a ball court at the nearby ruin site of Uxmal appeared to have been used as a sort of spectators' stand for elite audiences.

Huchim said the slits may have been used to determine when ball matches were played, given that the ball itself, as it was knocked through the air by the players, may have been seen as imitating the sun's arc as it passed through the sky.

It may have also been used "like a calendar, to mark important periods for agriculture," like planting the core crop of corn.

Finally, Huchim noted that old descriptions of the ball courts sometimes depicted people atop the walls, and that they may have been acting as umpires in the game.

Huchim said Thursday that stairways to the structures are being restored so visitors can observe the phenomenon.

Boston University archaeologist Francisco Estrada-Belli, who was not involved in the project, said the solar sighting lines were part of "part of Maya architecture and cosmology."

"The fact that the sun rise can be observed behind a structure should be understood in that sense, as reverence to the sun or other star, not necessarily as an observatory in the technical sense," Estrada-Belli said. The orientation of the structures "emphasized the sacrality of the ritual space."

SOURCE: http://news.yahoo.com/mexico-mayan-ball ... 35359.html
Mexican archaeologists say they have determined that the ancient Mayas built watchtower-style structures atop the ceremonial ball court at the temples of Chichen Itza to observe the equinoxes and solstices, and they said Friday that the discovery adds to understanding of the many layers of ritual significance that the ball game had for the culture.

Now thats interesting. If the theory is correct it may have implications for reassessing other Maya sites.
Discovery of stone monument at El Perú-Waka' adds new chapter to ancient Maya history
July 17th, 2013 in Other Sciences / Archaeology & Fossils

Discovery of stone monument at El Perú-Waka’ adds new chapter to ancient Maya history

Stone-carved representation of Maya King Chak Took Ich’aak (Red Spark Claw) who died in 556 AD. Credit: Francico Castaneda; courtesy of Proyecto Arqueológico el Perú-Waka´y Pacunam.

Stone-carved representation of Maya King Chak Took Ich’aak (Red Spark Claw) who died in 556 AD. Credit: Francico Castaneda; courtesy of Proyecto Arqueológico el Perú-Waka´y Pacunam.

Archaeologist tunneling beneath the main temple of the ancient Maya city of El Perú-Waka' in northern Guatemala have discovered an intricately carved stone monument with hieroglyphic text detailing the exploits of a little-known sixth-century princess whose progeny prevailed in a bloody, back-and-forth struggle between two of the civilization's most powerful royal dynasties, Guatemalan cultural officials announced July 16.

"Great rulers took pleasure in describing adversity as a prelude to ultimate success," said research director David Freidel, PhD, a professor of anthropology in Arts & Sciences at Washington University in St. Louis. "Here the Snake queen, Lady Ikoom, prevailed in the end."

Freidel, who is studying in Paris this summer, said the stone monument, known officially as El Perú Stela 44, offers a wealth of new information about a "dark period" in Maya history, including the names of two previously unknown Maya rulers and the political realities that shaped their legacies.
"The narrative of Stela 44 is full of twists and turns of the kind that are usually found in time of war but rarely detected in Precolumbian archaeology," Freidel said.

"The information in the text provides a new chapter in the history of the ancient kingdom of Waka' and its political relations with the most powerful kingdoms in the Classic period lowland Maya world."

Carved stone monuments, such as Stela 44, have been unearthed in dozens of other important Maya ruins and each has made a critical contribution to the understanding of Maya culture.

Freidel says that his epigrapher, Stanley Guenter, who deciphered the text, believes that Stela 44 was originally dedicated about 1450 years ago, in the calendar period ending in 564 AD, by the Wak dynasty King Wa'oom Uch'ab Tzi'kin, a title that translates roughly as "He Who Stands Up the Offering of the Eagle."

After standing exposed to the elements for more than 100 years, Stela 44 was moved by order of a later king and buried as an offering inside new construction that took place at the main El Perú-Waka' temple about 700 AD, probably as part of funeral rituals for a great queen entombed in the building at this time, the research team suggests.

El Perú-Waka' is about 40 miles west of the famous Maya site of Tikal near the San Pedro Martir River in Laguna del Tigre National Park. In the Classic period this royal city commanded major trade routes running north to south and east to west.

Freidel has directed research at this site in collaboration with Guatemalan and foreign archaeologists since 2003. At present, Lic. Juan Carlos Pérez Calderon is co-director of the project and Olivia Navarro Farr, an assistant professor at the College of Wooster in Ohio, is co-principal investigator and long term supervisor of work in the temple, known as Structure M13-1.

Gautemalan archaeologist Griselda Perez discovered Stela 44 in this temple.
Discovery of stone monument at El Perú-Waka’ adds new chapter to ancient Maya history

Map of the Maya World. Credit: Keith Eppich.

The project carries out research under the auspices of the Ministry of Culture and Sports of Guatemala and its Directorate for Cultural and Natural Patrimony, the Council for Protected Areas, and it is sponsored by the Foundation for the Cultural and Natural Patrimony (PACUNAM) and the US Department of the Interior.

Early in March 2013, Pérez was excavating a short tunnel along the centerline of the stairway of the temple in order to give access to other tunnels leading to a royal tomb discovered in 2012 when her excavators encountered Stela 44.

Once the texts along the side of the monument were cleared, archaeologist Francisco Castaneda took detailed photographs and sent these to Guenter for decipherment.

Guenter's glyph analysis suggests that Stela 44 was commissioned by Wak dynasty King Wa'oom Uch'ab Tzi'kin to honor his father, King Chak Took Ich'aak (Red Spark Claw), who had died in 556 AD. Stela 44's description of this royal father-son duo marks the first time their names have been known to modern history.

Researchers believe that Lady Ikoom was one of two Snake dynasty princesses sent into arranged marriages with the rulers of El Perú-Waka' and another nearby Maya city as a means of cementing Snake control over this region of Northern Guatemala.

Lady Ikoom was a predecessor to one of the greatest queens of Classic Maya civilization, the seventh-century Maya Holy Snake Lord known as Lady K'abel who ruled El Perú-Waka' for more than 20 years with her husband, King K'inich Bahlam II. She was the military governor of the Wak kingdom for her family, the imperial house of the Snake King, and she carried the title "Kaloomte," translated as "Supreme Warrior," higher in authority than her husband, the king.

Around 700 AD, Stela 44 was brought to the main city temple by command of King K'inich Bahlam II to be buried as an offering, probably as part of the funeral rituals for his wife, queen Kaloomte' K'abel.

Last year, the project discovered fragments of another stela built into the final terrace walls of the city temple, Stela 43, dedicated by this king in 702 AD. Lady Ikoom is given pride of place on the front of that monument celebrating an event in 574. She was likely an ancestor of the king.

Freidel and colleagues discovered Lady K'abel's tomb at the temple in 2012. Located near K'abel's tomb, Stela 44 was set in a cut through the plaster floor of the plaza in front of the old temple and then buried underneath the treads of the stairway of the new temple.

Discovery of stone monument at El Perú-Waka’ adds new chapter to ancient Maya history

Maya Snake queen Lady Ikoom as depicted on Stela 44. Credit: Francico Castaneda; courtesy of Proyecto Arqueológico el Perú-Waka´y Pacunam.

Stela 44 was originally raised in a period when no stelae were erected at Tikal, a period of more than a century called The Hiatus from 557 until 692 AD. This was a turbulent era in Maya history during which there were many wars and conquests. Tikal's hiatus started when it was defeated in battle by King Yajawte' K'inich of Caracol in Belize, probably under the auspices of the Snake King Sky Witness. The kingdom of Waka' also experienced a hiatus that was likely associated with changing political fortunes but one of briefer duration from 554 to 657 AD. That period is now shortened by the discovery of Stela 44.

The front of the stela is much eroded, no doubt from more than a century of exposure, but it features a king standing face forward cradling a sacred bundle in his arms. There are two other stelae at the site with this pose, Stela 23 dated to 524 and Stela 22 dated to 554, and they were probably raised by King Chak Took Ich'aak. The name Chak Took Ich'aak is that of two powerful kings of Tikal and it is likely that this king of Waka' was named after them and that his dynasty was a Tikal vassal at the time he came to the throne, the research team suggests.

The text describes the accession of the son of Chak Took Ich'aak, Wa'oom Uch'ab Tzi'kin, in 556 AD as witnessed by a royal woman Lady Ikoom who was probably his mother. She carries the titles Sak Wayis, White Spirit, and K'uhul Chatan Winik, Holy Chatan Person. These titles are strongly associated with the powerful Snake or Kan kings who commanded territories to the north of El Perú-Waka', which makes it very likely that Lady Ikoom was a Snake princess, Guenter argues.

A new queen, Lady Ikoom, also is featured in the text and she was important to the king who recovered this worn stela and used it again.

"We infer that sometime in the course of his reign King Chak Took Ich'aak changed sides and became a Snake dynasty vassal," Freidel said. "But then, when he died and his son and heir came to power, he did so under the auspices of a foreign king, which Guenter argues from details is the reigning king of Tikal. So Tikal had reasserted command of Waka' and somehow Queen Ikoom survived this imposition.

Discovery of stone monument at El Perú-Waka’ adds new chapter to ancient Maya historyEnlarge

Maya Snake queen Lady Ikoom as represented on Stela 43. Credit: Francico Castaneda; courtesy of Proyecto Arqueológico el Perú-Waka´y Pacunam.
"Then in a dramatic shift in the tides of war that same Tikal King, Wak Chan K'awiil, was defeated and sacrificed by the Snake king in 562 AD. Finally, two years after that major reversal, the new king and his mother raised Stela 44, giving the whole story as outlined above."

Stela 44's tales of political intrigue and bloodshed are just a few of the many dramatic stories of Classic Maya history that have been recovered through the decipherment of Maya glyphs, a science that has made great strides in the last 30 years, Freidel said.

Freidel and his project staff will continue to study Stela 44 for more clues about the nuances of Maya history. While the text on Stela 44 is only partially preserved, it clearly reveals an important moment in the history of Waka', he concludes.

Provided by Washington University in St. Louis

"Discovery of stone monument at El Perú-Waka' adds new chapter to ancient Maya history." July 17th, 2013. http://phys.org/news/2013-07-discovery- ... -waka.html
Mayan sculpture discovered in Guatemalan pyramid

Francisco Estrada-Belli working on the frieze in an undated photo

The figures are richly decorated with quetzal feathers and jade

Archaeologists working in a Mayan pyramid in Guatemala have discovered an "extraordinary" stucco sculpture depicting gods and Mayan leaders.

The frieze, which is eight metres long and two metres wide (26ft by six feet), shows three figures decorated with quetzal feathers and jade sitting atop the head of a mountain spirit.

It was found at the pre-Columbian archaeological site of Holmul.

Site director Francisco Estrada-Belli called it it a once-in-a lifetime find.

Snake Lords v Tikal
The frieze was found below a 20m-high (65ft) pyramid which was built over it in the 8th Century.

"The preservation is wonderful because it was very carefully packed with dirt before they started building over it," Mr Estrada-Belli said.

The sculpture is believed to depict the crowning of a new Mayan leader in about AD590.

It also bears an inscription made up of 30 glyphs, which was deciphered by Harvard University expert Alex Tokovinine.

The inscription says that the carving was commissioned by the ruler of a nearby city-state, Ajwosaj ChanK'inich.

The archaeologists say the frieze and its inscription shed light on a classical period of Maya rule in which two rival kingdoms, Tikal and the Snake Lords, fought for control of the region.

Mr Tokovinine says the inscription suggests that Ajwosaj, who was a vassal of the Snake Lords, came to the site to re-establish the local political and religious order after Holmul, which had supported the Tikal kingdom, had switched sides.
Beheaded Maya Massacre Victims Found
http://news.nationalgeographic.com/news ... e=sailthru
Scholars report the discovery of dismembered war captives from seventh century.
A piece of jade in a massacre victim's tooth suggests elite status.

Photograph courtesy Nicolaus Seefeld, University of Bonn

A mass grave filled with bones.
Human remains litter the floor of a cave at the site of Uxul. Photograph courtesy Nicolaus Seefeld, University of Bonn
Dan Vergano

National Geographic
Published September 11, 2013

Two dozen Maya war captives were beheaded, dismembered, and buried unceremoniously some 1,400 years ago at the site of Uxul, an international team reported on Tuesday.

The victims were likely rulers of nearby towns at war with Uxul, located in southern Mexico, or the dethroned rulers of the town itself, according to the researchers. The discovery of the mass burial in an artificial cave adds to the evidence that the brutal warfare, torture, and sacrifice of captives widely depicted in ancient Maya artwork were real practices, says discovery team archaeologist Nicolaus Seefeld of Germany's University of Bonn.

Of the two dozen skeletons discovered at the site earlier this year, the team was able to determine that at least 13 were men and 2 were women. Their ages at death ranged from 18 to 42. "Some of them had jade inserts in their teeth, which we think means they were high-status members of the ruling class," says Seefeld.

"All of them were decapitated, and the bones were scattered," Seefeld adds. The neck bones of the victims exhibit hatchet cuts, and several of the skulls bear unhealed marks from hatchet and cudgel blows. The skulls were piled some distance away from the skeletons in the burial chamber, a 344-square-foot (32-square-meter) rectangular cave once used to store water.

Bare Bones Burial

The victims were buried without any of the offerings or jewelry typically seen in royal burials, aside from a few potsherds that allowed the researchers to roughly date the time of their massacre. At the time, Uxul was apparently ruled by a local dynasty, though it later came under the control of Calakmul. The latter city was the superpower of the classic Maya era, which ended after A.D. 800 with the widespread abandonment, or collapse, of the pyramid-filled cities of Central America.

(Read about the rise and fall of the Maya in National Geographic magazine.)

"Most likely these were soldiers dispatched after being captured in warfare, or else [were] the local rulers themselves after being usurped," says archaeologist Arthur Demarest of Vanderbilt University in Nashville, who was not part of the discovery team.

Seefeld originally investigated the burial site looking to unearth the water system of the town, which was abandoned before A.D. 800, early in the era of Maya collapse. Instead of a cistern, he found the buried skeletons under 6.6 feet (2 meters) of sand and a layer of clay. "The cave once provided water to nearby elite residences, but we don't know if there is any connection to the people who lived there," he says.

(Related: "Maya Prince's Tomb Found With Rare Drinking Vessel.")

For now, the team hopes that chemical isotope analysis of the bones will reveal whether the beheading victims were local nobles or invaders captured during a war between Maya cities. The results should be known in November, Seefeld says, offering more insight into who won and who lost this one particularly fierce fight.
Ancient Maya Site Teeters on the Edge of Destruction
Sat, Dec 21, 2013 AddThis
The site of Nojol Nah in Belize may disappear before most of its secrets can be uncovered and preserved.
http://popular-archaeology.com/issue/12 ... estruction
Ancient Maya Site Teeters on the Edge of Destruction

The Alacranes Bajo, a low-lying, highly fertile and productive stretch of land which extends across Belize’s northwest corner and parts of Mexico and Guatemala, has been farmed intensively for centuries by the ancient Maya. Today is no different, with its modern inhabitants continuing to clear the land.

One would think that this is a good thing. After all, agricultural development feeds people and can raise many a family out of the misery of poverty. But progress, particularly in Belize and its Central American neighboring countries, often comes at a steep price, as locations and resources that represent critical cultural heritage and undiscovered history are lost to the bulldozer and other human tools for development, not to mention looting and inadvertent destruction caused by casual visitors. This is the looming fate for many of the ancient settlements, known and unknown, that dot the Belizean landscape on the east side of the Alacranes Bajo.

Nojol Nah is one such site. Archaeologists have been working at this site under the auspices of the Maya Research Program (MRP), a non-provit organization that has done extensive excavation and research at the larger Maya center of Blue Creek, also in Belize. Only a portion of the Nojol Nah site has been unearthed thus far, but they have already uncovered a wealth of new artifacts and features.

"The most significant finds from Nojol Nah from the past 5 seasons of excavations has been the incredible number of burials that have been recovered," says Colleen Hanratty, a member of the Board of Directors of MRP and a leading, long-time researcher and field archaeologist with the organization. "To date, we have recovered 67 burials from the excavation of 16 residential structures. For scale – we have recovered 57 burials from the site of Blue Creek and it’s residential components in 20 seasons of excavations. We have also recovered numerous caches, termination deposits, elite household middens* that produced sherds with glyphs, and chultuns**, as well as elite and public architecture." Anciently, construction began at the site during the Late Preclassic period (400 BCE - 200 CE).
Overview of NW Belize, with Nojol Nah site circled near the center of the image and showing its geographic positioning near the Alacranes Bajo. Courtesy Maya Research Program
Overview of an elite residence at Nojol Nah. Courtesy Maya Research Program
Polychrome sherd with glyphs, found at Nojol Nah. Courtesy Maya Research Program
Intact vaulted room at Tulix Mul, a component of Nojol Nah. Courtesy Maya Research Program
Perhaps the most sensational finds emerged at Tulix Mul, an outlier component of Nojol Nah, where archaeologists have recently uncovered a mural. Considered relatively rare, only a few other Maya sites in Mesoamerica have featured such art, arguably the best known being Bonampak in Mexico and San Bartolo in Guatemala.

Although the finds at Nojol Nah and Tulix Mul are significant in themselves, archaeologists emphasize that the most important takeaway is the invaluable information they afford, in conjunction with that of other excavations they are conducting in the area, for significantly expanding both scholarly and public understanding about the structure and dynamics of ancient Maya society and land use.

"We continue to strive to understand the nature of a Maya city," says Hanratty. "By comparing numerous sites in the area, we are working toward a better picture of the ancient Maya landscape. In addition, our work is also shedding new light on the nature of the so-called Terminal Classic “collapse” and subsequent abandonment of the area, including Post- classic reoccupation."

But Hanratty makes clear that there is a serious threat to the preservation of the site and the important research being conducted there. "The Alacranes Bajo is a low lying area that is very fertile and continues to be today. Unfortunately, just as the Maya farmed this area extensively in the past, the modern inhabitants of the area are also intensively farming the area and converting this land to cattle pasture. Due to modern technologies the negative impact on the natural and cultural resources is severe. This is why MRP is interested in conserving sites in the area, including those we haven’t identified."

To underscore the seriousness of the situation, the MRP reports that by 2010, thousands of acres surrounding Nojol Nah had already been cleared, leaving the site as an island of forest and biological refugium. Scientists and preservationists are almost certain that, unless action is taken, the site and the valuable archaeology and cultural information it holds will be destroyed.
Recently cleared land in NW Belize. Courtesy Maya Research Program
Saving Nojol Nah
The MRP and others are not waiting on the outside world to take action. Instead, they are taking the initiative to build on a concept that has worked for them in the recent past: If you want to protect a site, buy it.

It is a strategy that worked well when they acquired the land on which rested the ancient remains of Grey Fox (named after a type of fox that is indigenous to the area), a nearby site that contains two large public plazas, a large pyramid, large royal elite residences and viewing galleries, and a probable ballcourt. About 90 acres were purchased for $36,000, and Grey Fox immediately fell off the radar for endangered sites. Conservationsts and scientists at the MRP are now hoping that the same can be done for Nojol Nah and its outlying component, Tulix Mul.

Important progress has already been made. The Archaeological Insitute of America (AIA) has awarded MRP with a Site Preservation Grant for Tulix Mul, which will protect the Maya murals and establish a permanent outreach program involving the local community. In addition, MRP, in collaboration with Popular Archaeology Magazine, has launched a fund-raising campaign through the magazine's Adopt-a-Site program to acquire the necessary funds to purchase up to 100 acres to protect Nojol Nah and other sites in the area.

Says Dan McLerran, Owner and Editor of Popular Archaeology, "We look at it as saving the past for the future. For so many countries, and for the world at large, preserving and researching our cultural heritage is a vital part of global, national and local community identity. And for the people who live in the local communities associated with the sites, it can be a real source of income for their struggling economies and households in terms of tourism, outreach and museums. Nojol Nah is one place where this can be realized."
See this website for more information about the Maya Research Program, and Adopt-a-Site for more information about Nojol Nah and the donation program.
An international team of researchers argue that the reason for the collapse of the great ancient Maya city of Tikal during the 9th century CE was likely due to a lethal combination of persistent recurring episodes of drought and some of the very practices the Maya employed to create a successful and, for a time, sustainable system for supporting its massive and growing urban population.

Through forest surveys, satellite imagery, excavations, coring, and examinations of wood, plant, and soil samples collected from the Tikal zone inhabited during the Maya Late Classic period (LCP, 600 – 850 CE), David L. Lentz of the University of Cincinnati and colleagues from other institutions studied the agro-forestry and agricultural land use practices of the Maya, as well as the evidence for environmental change, to build what they consider to be a likely scenario for the famous collapse of the great Tikal polity. ...

''Lost City Discovered in the Honduran Rainforest''
By Douglas Preston
Photographs by Dave Yoder
PUBLISHED March 02, 2015

An expedition to Honduras has emerged from the jungle with dramatic news of the discovery of a mysterious culture’s lost city, never before explored. The team was led to the remote, uninhabited region by long-standing rumors that it was the site of a storied “White City,” also referred to in legend as the “City of the Monkey God.”

More here, http://news-beta.nationalgeographic...rasexclusive&utm_campaign=Content&sf7754268=1
Image copyrightAP
Image captionResearchers used 3D imaging to illustrate their find
A third structure has been found within the famous Kukulkan pyramid in eastern Mexico, experts say.

The 10m (33t) tall pyramid was found within two other structures that comprise the 30m pyramid at the Mayan archaeological complex known as Chichen Itza in Yucatan state.

The discovery suggests that the pyramid was built in three phases.

The Mayan civilisation occupied Central America and had its peak around the 6th Century AD.

The recently-discovered smallest pyramid was constructed between the years 550-800, researchers say.

The middle structure was discovered in the 1930s and is estimated to date back to the years 800-1000, while the largest one is believed to have been finished between 1050-1300.

"It's like a Russian nesting doll. Under the large one we get another and another," researcher Rene Chavez Seguro told a news conference. ...

A third structure has been found within the famous Kukulkan pyramid in eastern Mexico, experts say.

The 10m (33t) tall pyramid was found within two other structures that comprise the 30m pyramid at the Mayan archaeological complex known as Chichen Itza in Yucatan state.

The discovery suggests that the pyramid was built in three phases. ...

This sort of 'building a bigger edition atop the prior one' seems fairly common among large-scale Mesoamerican structures. The resultant nesting-dolls arrangement always struck me as insinuating some form of 'renewal' or 'extension' objective having been in play.

There are certainly other examples of ancient structures or sites being rebuilt, renovated, or expanded to be found worldwide. However, it seems this theme of 'new version of same structure in the same place' is relatively specific to Mesoamerican antiquities.

Two questions relating to this have been languishing in my mental attic for some time now ...

Are there any other ancient civilizations whose progressive construction projects seem to have been so closely circumscribed as 'expansions on the original' as the Mesoamerican examples?

Did the apparent timing of the extensions / expansions somehow correlate with phases, epochs, or transition points in (e.g.) the Mayan calendar system?
I believe buddhist temples are rebuilt at regular intervals. Though they remove the old structure rather than expand on it.
New evidence indicates Mayan civilization experienced two major collapse events (rather than the single final fall, which remains something of a mystery ... ), separated by circa seven centuries ...

Archaeologists uncover new clues to Maya collapse

Using the largest set of radiocarbon dates ever obtained from a single Maya site, archaeologists have developed a high-precision chronology that sheds new light on patterns leading up to the two major collapses of the ancient civilization.

Archaeologists have long puzzled over what caused what is known as the Classic Maya collapse in the ninth century A.D., when many of the ancient civilization's cities were abandoned. More recent investigations have revealed that the Maya also experienced an earlier collapse in the second century A.D. -- now called the Preclassic collapse -- that is even more poorly understood.

University of Arizona archaeologist Takeshi Inomata and his colleagues suggest in a new paper, to be published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, that both collapses followed similar trajectories, with multiple waves of social instability, warfare and political crises leading to the rapid fall of many city centers.


FULL STORY: http://www.eurekalert.org/pub_releases/2017-01/uoa-aun012317.php
I doubt there's a civilization that ever lasted past the point where a elite forms and eventually the majority simply get fed up and get (figurative) pitchforks out and/or the thing collapses because an ignorant and hubristic elite make dumb decisions.

You don't need a mystery disease, although even a moderately lethal one could render such a social edifice unstable.
Mayan Child Sacrifices Found Buried With “Supernatural” Stones

Researchers digging up an ancient Mayan city recently discovered nine child sacrifices buried with black stones that the Mayans believed held supernatural powers.

Writing in the Journal of Field Archaeology, archeologists investigating the ruins of an ancient city in Ceibal, Guatemala said they discovered the graves of nine children the Mayans ritually sacrificed to the gods. They were buried with precious trinkets of both real, symbolic, and spiritual value to the Mayans.

Two of these children, aged two to four, were discovered buried face to face with a long obsidian knife, a block of obsidian, and a number of other trinkets buried alongside them.

A new remote sensing (LIDAR) survey has identified a large number of previously undocumented Mayan structures in northern Guatemala.

Thousands of Mysterious Maya Structures Discovered in Guatemala
An aerial survey over northern Guatemala has turned up over 60,000 new Maya structures, including pyramids, causeways, house foundations and defensive fortifications.

It's a watershed discovery that has already led archaeologists to new sites to excavate and explore. The findings may also revise estimates of how many ancient Maya once lived in the region upward by "multiple factors," said Tom Garrison, an archaeologist who specializes in the Maya culture and is part of the consortium that funded and organized the survey. Far more ancient Maya lived on the landscape than there are people in the region today, Garrison told Live Science, and they did it without the destructive slash-and-burn agriculture that is crippling the jungle in modern times. ...

FULL STORY: https://www.livescience.com/61616-mysterious-maya-structures-discovered.html

Associated Slide Show: https://www.livescience.com/61618-maya-civilization-photos.html