Sunday, November 04, 2012

New Pre-Columbian Discoveries

Archaeologists find twelve burials thought to be 1000 years old in the State of Nayarit 

 The experts detailed that they found complete skeletons both inside and around the mortuary containers. Photo: INAH.
Translated by: Cristina Perez Ayala
MEXICO CITY.- A set of 12 burials, inside basalt boxes, were discovered by archaeologists of the National Institute of Anthropology and History (INAH – Conaculta) in the southeast part of Nayarit. Given the great quantities of human bones that were contained in each burial, archaeologists consider this finding as a type of pre Hispanic cemetery about 1000 years old. According to Lourdes Garcia Barajas and Jose Beltran Medina, archaeologists of the INAH Center in Nayarit, this funerary finding is unique since it’s the first one of its kind and because this is a mortuary tradition that had been unknown in the region, with the only related findings being shaft tombs or osseous remains cramped inside clay pots. Until this finding, never had they found osseous remains inside basalt boxes.
The experts detailed that they found complete skeletons both inside and around the mortuary containers –most of which were determined to have been burned given their black coloring– also, they found bones inside ceramic pots contained in the basalt boxes, which is why specialists haven’t been able to determine the total number of individuals that had been interred. The burials were found near the foot of the volcano Ceboruco (2280 meters [7840 feet] tall). This volcano is part of the Mexican Neo-volcanic axis, whose greatest eruption occurred in 1000 AD; the volcanic rock that
covered the burials was the element that helped determine (in a preliminary manner) the emporariness of the pre Hispanic remains. “Each of the basalt boxes –which are separated at about three or four meters (9 feet to 13 feet) from each other–, are built with about eight (basalt) stones and covered with sandstones that were intentionally fragmented as a part of some unknown ritual”, archaeologist Lourdes Garcia explained. Also, archaeologist Jose Beltran Medina said that within one of the basalt boxes, they found three Mazapa-style feminine statuettes, two of which –30 centimeters (11 inches) tall–, are exactly the same and represent two elderly women in red pigment who are wearing: a blouse, a skirt, a headdress, earflaps and bracelets. Along these statuettes and other ceramic elements commonly found in burials, archaeologists have estimated these remains date back to the Early Postclassic period (900 – 1100 AD). It was during this period that a constant migration between the pre Hispanic West and the high plateau happened because of the establishment of commercial routes in the region. Because of these mobilizations, Nahua groups reached the western regions –although specialists still are not certain whether the groups settled in the region or if they only used it as a space through which they could pass through other areas–, which suggests to the archaeologists the possibility that the area where the finding was registered was a Nahuan settlement and the individuals buried there could belong to that affiliation, although this will have to be thoroughly investigated in order to be confirmed, the archaeologists at INAH Center in Nayarit pointed out. All human bones recovered in the 12 burials are being transferred to the archaeological camp in the site where the discovery was made. There, a physical anthropologist can study them in detail, in order to determine the number of individuals, sex and age of each one, pathologies and marks left by activities they developed in life. All ceramic objects are being restored at the INAH Center in Nayarit. The archaeological rescue works will continue halfway through next December, archaeologists Lourdes Garcia and Jose Beltran concluded.

MEXICO CITY.- A multidisciplinary team of the National Institute of Anthropology and History (INAH – Conaculta) entered a mortuary chamber (discovered thirteen years before in Palenque, Chiapas) for the first time. This chamber is thought to contain the remains of one of the first sovereign of this city K’uk Bahlam I, who rose to power in 431 AC, and founded the dynasty to which the celebrated Mayan governor Pakal belonged to. This tomb is approximately 1,500 years old and it’s located inside the XX Temple of that archaeological zone. It’s at least two centuries older than Pakal’s sepulcher, which was discovered 50 years ago in the same site by archaeologist Alberto Ruz Lhuillier. Before the group of specialists could enter the mortuary chamber (last Tuesday) the lens of a tiny video camera had been the only one to have captured the interior of this chamber. The first occasion was in 1999, during the work of the Pre-Colombian Art Research Institute (PARI), and it most recently occurred in June 2011 when INAH first circulated images of the chamber to the media. Arnoldo Gonzalez Cruz – the archaeologist that found the Red Queen’s tomb in 1994, also in Palenque –, is working alongside the archaeologist and restorer, Rogelio Rivero Chong, who will intervene in the XX Temple project, located in the South Acropolis of this ancient territory that should have been called Lakamha or “Place of the Great Waters”. “Given the dates – indicated Arnoldo Gonzalez – we happen to be in face of the birth of the Palencan dynasty, in the year 400 after Christ. Even though we could be talking about the mortuary chambers of the founder
of this dynasty, this doesn’t stop being mere speculation until we commence the archaeological exploration; this chamber could even be an antechamber since we don’t know if there is more below the ground.” Above the surface, in which no osseous remains of any personage – although it’s most likely these will be discovered once the excavations are started –, eleven vases and about a hundred small pieces, most of which are green stone, likely to be jade, a ring and a pendant have been found along with a mural painting that decorates the funerary space. Gonzalez Cruz, who is in charge of the Archaeological Project of Palenque, said that it was the PARI project, headed by the archaeologists Merle Greene Robertson and Alfonso Morales, that discovered the tomb in the XX Temple; however, the pyramid’s instability – of 18 meters (59 feet) tall – prevented it’s exploration, which is why they had only obtained images of the tomb through a video camera. Unlike the funerary rooms of Pakal and the Red Queen, the chamber or antechamber of the XX Temple doesn’t contain a sarcophagus, at least not where the explorations have been made; but it does have mural paintings in lively red tones in its three sides, with representations of the Nine Lords of Xibalba, or the underworld, same which appear, modeled in stucco, in the tomb of the celebrated Mayan governor. The murals show said mythical characters wearing headdresses, shields and sandals. “The important part about the funerary sites of this epoch, the Early Classical period (400 – 550 AD), is the paintings; we are before one of the few examples of murals discovered in the funerary context of Palenque, which is why this work is so important,” specifies Arnoldo Gonzalez. That which could only be seen in video, is what is being observed directly by the eyes of archaeologists, restorers, chemists, architects, photographers, graphic designers, among others, plus a team of manual workers – some of which are experienced in archaeology – reunited to preserve the space in the best conditions possible. tp://
MICHOACAN.- The discovery of a funerary chamber of more than a 1,000 years old, in the Archaeological Zone of Tingambato Michoacan, with an unidentified character’s burial, ccompanied by 19,000 green stone beads, shells and human bones, is one of the most outstanding results of a special archaeological investigation and conservation project by INAH in five different pre Hispanic sites in this zone. According to the archaeologists of the National Institute of Anthropology and History (INAH-Conaculta), the architectural complexity of the mortuary chamber and the burial’s wealth (which belong to the Classic period [200 through 900 AD]) indicate that the remains belong to a high ranking character from the ancient metropolis of Tingambato. The cultural particulars of the burial haven’t been identified yet, but it’s inferred that the chamber matches the funerary traditions of the West, such as shaft tombs and the tombs of El Opeño, although these we built during the Pre Classic period (300 through 200 BC) and continuing through the Classic period (400 through 600 AD). Archaeologist Melchor Cruz, coordinator of the conservation and investigation works of Tingambato, reported that the characteristics that have dominated in Tomb II and the wealth of the burial indicate that Tingambato must have had a major importance in the pre Hispanic culture of this region, which until now “could have been a governing center of the Classic Mesoamerican period, in the central region of what today is Michoacan”. The funerary space is composed of a sandstone ceiling, these stones were thoroughly worked to make narrow and long shapes, one on top of the other, glued together with mud, and arranged counter clockwise; the walls are covered with a stucco made of vegetable fibers. This sepulcher is added to the one discovered in 1979, Tomb I of Tingambato, by archaeologist Roman Piña Chan. Melchor Cruz said that the quantity of shell beads that were found in the chamber convey possible relation to the ancient settlers of Tingambato with other towns in the coast. Also, it shows that this city could have been a possible strategic point in a commercial route to Cuenca de Patzcuaro. “The burial’s arrangement was a complete paraphernalia: we found hundreds of beads carved in rectangular and square shapes, snail shells of about two through eight millimeters (0.07 and 0.31 inches) tall; some of those materials were probably used for necklaces and covered the human skeleton up to the thorax and the arms; underneath the individual’s remains we found a layer of sandstone placed on the floor of the funerary chamber.” It was in July 2011, through the Michoacan Special Project, that after three decades, they renewed the explorations of Tingambato, parallel to the major maintenance work of ancient buildings. The discovery was registered while the grass was being trimmed and remains of pre Hispanic archaeology were being searched for. A worker put his foot in a hole made by a mole and his foot sank 10 centimeters (3.93
inches) until it stopped on hard ground. To verify what this was, archaeologist Melchor Cruz introduced his hand in the hole and touched a piece of sandstone, he then thought this might be a tomb. This is the second tomb that is discovered in this site. The specialist said that this tomb was different than the mortuary chamber found in 1979 since this one has a more complex structure in the chamber walls, the buttresses of the ceiling and the stucco cover.
HUATULCO, MEXICO.- The sepulcher of an individual that (possibly) governed a place known today as Bocana del Río Copalita in Huatulco, Oaxaca, 1300 years ago, was discovered by nvestigators of the ceremonial area of this archaeological site. Here another 38 burials were found, some of which were individuals whom they believe part of the elite. The pre Hispanic burials were registered by specialists of the National Institute of Anthropology and History (INAH-Conaculta) during the sixth season of the investigation. This investigation takes place in the superior façade of the site’s Mayan Temple, where the elite resided; there, archaeologists found a sepulcher made with masonry’s stone blocks of about 1.8 meters (5.9 feet) high and 1 meter (3.28 feet) wide. The sepulcher contained the skeleton of an individual, presumably of the male sex who was between 20 and 23 years old at death. Archaeologist Raul Matadamas Diaz, director of the Bocana del Rio Copalita investigation project, informed that the sepulcher –the first one that has been discovered in this site– is estimated to date back to 700 AD and although cultural affiliation has not been yet determined, it could be associated to ancient groups that were in contact with Zapotecs of the Valles Centrales in Oaxaca. INAH’s archaeologist elaborated about the offerings found which were accompanying the skeleton, among which a severed femur believed to have been used as a baton. “This finding –he emphasized– will help understand the funerary practices of the civilizations that occupied Copalita, especially its elite from which we have no information until now”. “Around the sepulcher, we also discovered the burial of 22 more individuals, among which a female character stood out. She was the first skeleton in this pre Hispanic site that was facing the floor, which might indicate a sign of submission to the principal character in the tomb. Her skeleton had two jade earflaps and beads located in her lumbar vertebras”, Matadamas said. The specialist at INAH-Oaxaca Center explained that over the female skeleton were four pots, one of which is a bowl decorated with a glyph in a relief that has the representation of an owl between two snakes, an image that is repeated in the contour of the piece and which is associated to ancient Zapotecs from the Valles Centrales in Oaxaca. Matadamas Diaz added that in the base of the same piece they found symmetrical figures of an alligator opening its jaws; within the jaws is the face of a man who has a scroll with a word in front of him, possibly related to cultures from the coast of Huatulco. “Said symbols will be studied in detail to see if it’s possible to elucidate through them the world view that was developed between 700 and 800 AD by groups that settled in the metropolis of Copalita, and to identify the character that is contained in the tomb” the archaeologist stated. All the material that was recovered in the archaeological zone is being transferred to the INAH Center in Oaxaca to be registered and analyzed.
GUATEMALA CITY.- A ceramic pot found in a burial chamber at the El Peru-Waka archaeological site in Laguna del Tigre National Park in Peten, north of Guatemala City. Archaeologists say a stone jar found at burial chamber in northern Guatemala leads them to believe it is the tomb of a great Maya queen. The team of U.S. and Guatemalan experts led by anthropologist David Freidel has also found other evidence, such as ceramic vessels and a large stone with carvings referring it as the burial site of Lady K’abel, considered the military governor of an ancient Maya city during the seventh century. AP Photo/El Peru-Waka’ Archaeological Project.

 MEXICO CITY (AP).- As the clock winds down to Dec. 21, experts on the Mayan calendar have been racing to convince people that the Mayas didn't predict an apocalypse for the end of this year.
Some experts are now saying the Mayas may indeed have made prophecies, just not about the end of the world. Archaeologists, anthropologists and other experts met Friday in the southern Mexico city of Merida to discuss the implications of the Mayan Long Count calendar, which is made up of 394-year periods called baktuns. Experts estimate the system starts counting at 3114 B.C., and will have run through 13 baktuns, or 5,125 years, around Dec. 21. Experts say 13 was a significant number for the Mayans, and the end of that cycle would be a milestone — but not an end. Fears that the calendar does point to the end have circulated in recent years. People in that camp believe the Maya may have been privy to impending astronomical disasters that would coincide with 2012, ranging
from explosive storms on the surface of the sun that could knock out power grids to a galactic alignment that could trigger a reversal in Earth's magnetic field. Mexican government archaeologist Alfredo Barrera said Friday that the Mayas did prophesize, but perhaps about more humdrum events like droughts or disease outbreaks. "The Mayas did make prophecies, but not in a fatalistic sense, but rather about events that, in their cyclical conception of history, could be repeated in the future," said Barrera, of the National Institute of Anthropology and History. Experts stressed that the ancient Mayas, whose "classic" culture of writing, astronomy and temple complexes flourished from A.D. 300 to 900, were extremely interested in future events, far beyond Dec. 21. "There are many ancient Maya monuments that discuss events far into the future from now," wrote Geoffrey Braswell, an anthropologist at the University of California, San Diego. "The ancient Maya clearly believed
things would happen far into the future from now." "The king of Palenque, K'inich Hanaab Pakal, believed he would return to the Earth a couple of thousand years from now in the future," Braswell wrote in an email to The Associated Press. "Moreover, other monuments discuss events even before the creation in 3114 B.C." Only a couple of references to the 2012 date equivalency have been found carved in stone at Mayan sites, and neither refers to an apocalypse, experts say. Such apocalyptic visions have been common for more than 1,000 years in Western, Christian thinking, and are not native to Mayan thought. "This is thinking that, in truth, has nothing to do with Mayan culture," said Alexander Voss, an anthropologist at the University Of Quintana Roo, a state on Mexico's Caribbean coast. "This thing about looking for end-times is not something that comes from Mayan culture."
Braswell compared the Mayan calendar, with its system of cycles within cycles, to the series of synchronized wheels contained in old, analogue car odometers. "The Maya long count system is like a car odometer," Braswell wrote. "My first car (odometer) only had six wheels so it went up to 99,999.9 miles. That didn't mean the car would explode after reaching 100,000 miles."
Associated Press -
Archaeologists find the largest amount of skulls at the most sacred temple of the Aztec empire
 The archaeologists believe the 45 skulls were those of women and men between 20 and 35 years old and could have been dug up from other sites and reburied. Photo: DMC INAH H. Montano.
By: Adriana Perez Licon, Associated Press
MEXICO CITY (AP).- Mexican archaeologists said Friday they uncovered the largest number of skulls ever found in one offering at the most sacred temple of the Aztec empire dating back more than 500 years. The finding reveals new ways the pre-Colombian civilization used skulls in rituals at Mexico City's Templo Mayor, experts said. That's where the most important Aztec ceremonies took place between 1325 until the Spanish conquest in 1521. The 50 skulls were found at one sacrificial stone. Five were buried under the stone, and each had holes on both sides — signaling they were hung on a skull rack. Archaeologist Raul Barrera of Mexico's National Institute of Anthropology and History said the other 45 skulls appeared to have just been dumped on top of the stone. The team of archeologists unearthed the skulls and jaw bones in August. They stumbled on them as they were renovating a section of the Templo Mayor in the heart of Mexico City. Barrera said they believe the 45 skulls were those of women and men between 20 and 35 years old and could have been dug up from other sites and reburied. Last August, the Mexican government announced experts had found an unprecedented human burial at another spot in the same temple in which the skeleton of a young woman, possibly sacrificed personifying a goddess, was surrounded by piles of nearly 1,800 bones. Another unusual finding this summer was a "sacred tree," which looks like a battered oak trunk emerging from a well and which experts say was brought from a mountain region for a ritual.
The skulls shown to the media Friday were in good condition but cracked on each side of the head, possibly because of the wooden stake that ran through them so they could be placed in a skull rack.
Barrera said the key in the discovery was the sacrificial rock, which looks like a gray headstone.
"Underneath the sacrificial stone, we found an offering of five skulls. These skulls were pierced with a stick," he said. "These are very important findings." University of Florida archaeologist Susan Gillespie, who was not involved in the excavation, said it caught her attention that the skulls that had been on the rack, called tzompantli, were buried separately. "It provides rather novel information on the use and reuse of skulls for ritual events at the Templo Mayor," Gillespie said in an email.
Also, the common belief about Aztec sacrificial stones is that a person being sacrificed was killed by cutting open the chest and pulling out the heart. "We normally associate (it) with heart removal rather than decapitation," she said. "It ultimately gives us a better understanding of how the Aztecs used the human body in various ways in their ritual practices.

Copyright 2012 The Associated Press.
YUCATAN.- After almost two years’ restoration and integral conservation work, the Great Ball Game of Chichen Itza, the biggest in Mesoamerica, gradually recovered its original form with the reestablishment of a small staircase in the rear part of the ball court and the five passages the Mayan had built over the principal structures, these were also used to observe the path of the sun during the equinoxes and the solstices. The restoration of these five structures, which archaeologists have defined as passages because they were used to observe the path of the celestial bodies, has enabled archaeologists to reassert the hypothesis stating that the Great Ball Game of that archaeological site in Yucatan had an astronomic function. The previous information was reported by archaeologist Jose Huchim Herrera, coordinator of the Integral Conservation Project of Chichen Itza, who participated in the opening session of the XVII Roman Piña Chan Symposium, developed by the National Museum of Anthropology, as a part of the academic activities of the XXIV Anthropology and History Book Fair. The National Institute of Anthropology and History’s (INAH – Conaculta) investigator explained that these structures were possibly in a place where the game’s overmen could watch the game, that is to say these observers supervised the game to make sure the ball passed through the ring or anything else that would have to be followed during the ritual. Huchim Herrera said existing pre Hispanic models of the Ball Game picture characters located in three places: in the extremes and in the central part of the principal structures; and sources allude to the overmen,
which is why there is a great possibility that the restored architectonic elements of the Great Ball Game had this astronomical function. The passages are over the principal structures of the Great Ball Game; three are above the west structure (two in each extreme and one in the center) and two in the east (one in the center and another in the northern extreme). The principal structures of the ball court are two large horizontal platforms, each have a type of sidewalk where the game’s rules are embossed. These platforms contributed to make this edification (which dates back to 864 AD and measures up to 120 meters [393.6 feet] long) famous worldwide. Archaeologist Jose Huchim commented that 25 years ago, when he was in the process of studying his career in Archaeology, he made observations with his Professor Victor Segovia, pioneer in the study of pre Hispanic astronomy. Both were certain that the passages were oriented to the equinoxes and solstices: “We saw that middle passage did have an orientation that allowed the observation of equinoxes, which is why we thought it important to restore all five of them in order to prove they were built according to the sun’s patterns. “Last year, as a part of the integral restoration Ball Game Project, we were able to restore the five passages up to 90 percent; I again made astronomical observations and could prove that one of them marks the winter solstice, the central passages mark the equinoxes and the north passages mark the summer solstice”. This INAH-Yucatan Center investigator recalled that to pre Hispanic Mayans the sun was one of the most important elements in their rituals, it signaled the change in seasons and the start of a pertinent time to prepare the land for corn cultivation. The ball is an analogy of the sun and the movements of the game are an analogy of the path of this celestial body.
“The path of the sun, the fact that it rises from the east, that it arrives to its zenith, and that it hides in the west at a certain moment was reproduced with the movement of the ball during the ritual game”.

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