COPÁN, Honduras — “We have to get you there for the ‘magic hour,’ ” said Bill Fash, peering through the spidery crack on the windshield of his old Ford pickup as he drove two visitors to the main Maya ruins in Copán.
The enchanted time of day at the majestic UNESCO World Heritage site comes at dusk, when the sun stretches its fingers across the massive Maya monuments and the lush valley floor. Encircled by mountains, the ruins contain an ancient world of buried secrets that members of the Harvard community and residents of Copán have been uncovering for decades.
As the long shadows receded into dusk, these primeval secrets seemed to hide once more. Read more.
El Pilar. The name means “watering basin”, reflecting its rich water resources. Spread across the border between western Belize and northeastern Guatemala, this ancient Maya city center is considered the largest site in the Belize River region, boasting over 25 known plazas and hundreds of other structures, covering an area of about 120 acres. Monumental construction at El Pilar began in the Middle Preclassic period, around 800 BCE, and at its height centuries later it harbored more than 20,000 people.
It thus may come as a surprise for many visitors when they actually see the site. Its immensity belies the view — for this city, unlike many of its well-known counterparts in Belize and Guatemala — sites like Tikal and Caracol — remains mostly cloaked in its dense tropical shroud. Read more.
Researchers of the Department of Anthropology of the Americas at the University of Bonn have discovered a mass grave in an artificial cave in the historical Maya city of Uxul (Mexico). Marks on the bones indicate that the individuals buried in the cave were decapitated and dismembered around 1,400 years ago. The scientists assume that the victims were either prisoners of war or nobles from Uxul itself.
For the last five years, archaeologists of the department of Anthropology of the Americas of the University of Bonn have been excavating in the historical Maya city of Uxul in Campeche (Mexico) with the aim of researching the origins and the collapse of regional states in the Maya lowlands. Read more.
Archaeologist Anya Shetler cleans an inscription below an ancient stucco frieze recently unearthed in the buried Maya city of Holmul in the Peten region of Guatemala. Sunlight from a tunnel entrance highlights the carved legs of a ruler sitting atop the head of a Maya mountain spirit.
The enormous frieze—which measures 26 feet by nearly 7 feet (8 meters by 2 meters)—depicts human figures in a mythological setting, suggesting these may be deified rulers. It was discovered in July in the buried foundations of a rectangular pyramid in Holmul.
Maya archaeologist Francisco Estrada-Belli and his team were excavating a tunnel left open by looters when they happened upon the frieze. “The looters had come close to it, but they hadn’t seen it,” Estrada-Belli said. Read more.
Ancient Maya believed that the rain god Chaak resided in caves and natural wells called cenotes. Maya farmers today in Mexico’s parched Yucatán still appeal to Chaak for the gift of rain. Meanwhile cenotes are giving archaeologists new insights into the sacred landscapes of the ancestral Maya.
On the edge of a small cornfield near the ruined Maya city of Chichén Itzá, in the sparse shade of a tropical tree, a voice ricochets wildly up the mouth of a well. “¡Lo vi! ¡Lo vi!” the shout proclaims. “I saw it, I saw it!” “¡Sí, es verdad! Yes, it’s true!”
Leaning over the mouth of the well, underwater archaeologist Guillermo de Anda needs to make sure that this is what he has been longing to hear for so many months. “What is true, Arturo?” And his fellow archaeologist Arturo Montero, floating down at the bottom of the well, yells up again, “The zenith light! It really works! Get down here!” Then he whoops ecstatically. Read more.
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. Read more.
BYU researchers have dug up new evidence from an ancient Maya city that may help solve the mystery of just how many people lived in the civilization.
Using soil chemistry, combined with advanced remote sensing and satellite imagery, the researchers have pinpointed for the first time where Maya farmers in Tikal, Guatemala, carried out some of their most significant crop production.
The location of the prime farmland indicates that the Maya population at Tikal may have been much different than previously thought.
"Our soil analysis is finding that Mayas did not grow maize heavily on the hillsides, but rather along the borders of the low-lying wetlands called bajos," Read more.
You think you have interesting work, and indeed you may, but chances are it doesn’t involve hieroglyphs, fieldwork at a Belize geological site, a 2,000-year-old stalagmite or coordinating a team of diverse experts across oceans to help solve a centuries-old mystery that may hold important lessons for us today.
But if this work, which is that of environmental archaeologist Douglas Kennett, sounds a little bit like Indiana Jones, it is in fact, often a slog. For his late 2012 published research related to the role of climate in the collapse of the Classic Maya (300 to 1000 C.E.), his team extracted and analyzed thousands of samples from a 2,000-year-old stalagmite. Read more.