Sunday, April 28, 2013

Ceibal Reveals Clues to Mayan Origins

A site called Ceibal in Guatemala is the oldest Mayan ceremonial compound in Central America’s lowlands and is now believed to have functioned as a solar observatory for rituals. It  also suggests that the origins of the Maya civilization are more complex than first believed.

Archaeologists hotly debate whether the Maya -- famous for their complex calendar system that spurred apocalypse rumors last year -- developed independently or whether they were largely inspired by an earlier culture known as the Olmec.
According to Discovery News:
"This major social change happened through interregional interactions," said study researcher Takeshi Inomata, an anthropologist at the University of Arizona. But it doesn't look like the Olmec inspired the Maya, Inomata told reporters. Rather, the entire region went through a cultural shift around 1000 B.C., with all nearby cultures adopting similar architectural and ceremonial styles. 
"It's signaling to us that the Maya were not receiving this sophisticated stuff 500 years later from somebody else, but much of the innovation we're seeing out of the whole region may be coming out of Ceibal or a place like Ceibal," said Walter Witschey, an anthropologist at Longwood University in Virginia, who was not involved in the study.
The finding comes from seven years of archaeological excavations at Ceibal, which was occupied continuously for 2,000 years.

Thursday, April 25, 2013

Commerce Rich in Lost Egyptian Port

A lost ancient Egyptian city submerged beneath the sea 1,200 years ago is starting to reveal what life was like in the legendary port of Thonis-Heracleion. The city disappeared beneath the Mediterranean around 1,200 years ago and was found during a survey of the Egyptian shore at the beginning of the last decade. Now researchers are forming the view that the city was the main customs hub through which all trade from Greece and elsewhere in the Mediterranean entered Egypt.
According to The Telegraph, Dr. Damian Robinson, director of the Oxford Centre for Maritime Archaeology at the University of Oxford, has said:
 “It is a major city we are excavating. The site has amazing preservation. We are now starting to look at some of the more interesting areas within it to try to understand life there.  
"We are getting a rich picture of things like the trade that was going on there and the nature of the maritime economy in the Egyptian late period.”
They’ve discovered the remains of more than 60 ships buried in the seabed. Giant 16-foot statues have been uncovered and brought to the surface while archaeologists have found hundreds of smaller statues of minor gods on the sea floor. Dozens of small limestone sarcophagi were also recently uncovered by divers and are believed to have once contained mummified animals, put there to appease the gods.

Image: Image is archaeological conception of Heracleion.

Sunday, April 21, 2013

Robot Explores Teotihuacan Chamber

Portion of the Temple of Quetzalcoatl

Archaeologists are eager to begin robotic exploration of a tunnel beneath the Temple of Quetzalcoatl in Teotihuacan, one of the largest pre-Columbian cities in Mesoamerica. The tunnel contains a 2,000-year-old chamber likely used for burial of dignitaries.
According to the National Anthropology and History Institute (INAH), this is the third time anywhere in the world that such an automaton is used to execute excavation strategies.
The Tlaloc II-TC robot, which will be the first to travel the remaining 30 to 35 meters (100 to 115 feet) of the tunnel, is composed of three independent mechanisms, the first being the transport vehicle that reaches a length of over a meter (3 1/4 feet) once its arms are stretched out. The robotic arms serve to deal with any obstacles in the vehicle’s path.
With the exploration of these areas, the INAH looks forward to making some of the most important archaeological discoveries yet at Teotihuacan.

Wednesday, April 3, 2013

Ponce de León and Florida Mythology

Based on last week’s commemoration, it’s been 500 years since Juan Ponce de León discovered Florida. The problem is, he didn’t discover Florida. And as Florida historian T.D. Allman points out in the New York Times: “He never did much of anything here except get himself killed.”
According to Allman’s article:
Florida probably was first sighted by Portuguese navigators, or perhaps by the Cabots sailing from England. Either way, it started appearing on maps as early as 1500. 
By 1510, its distinctive peninsular shape had emerged clearly on maps in Europe. By 1513, when Ponce de Léon first arrived, so many Europeans had visited Florida that some Indians greeted him in Spanish. 
Ponce never went anywhere near St. Augustine, the city where he is said to have discovered the Fountain of Youth. He was not an old man. That tale was concocted by Washington Irving more than 300 years later.
Ponce left and then returned on a second voyage.  
On that second voyage he achieved one real Florida first, albeit an inglorious one. In a skirmish with native inhabitants, Ponce fired the first shots in what would turn into a 300-year war of ethnic cleansing … Ponce himself was struck by an arrow. The wound wasn’t serious, but the Spaniards were as indifferent to sepsis as they were alert to heresy… he died of fever in Havana, having discovered nothing, founded nothing and achieved nothing.