Mayans had plumbing too

Everybody gets to share!

he New World’s earliest known example of engineered water pressure was discovered by two Penn State archaeologists in the Mayan city of Palenque, Mexico.
“Water pressure systems were previously thought to have entered the New World with the arrival of the Spanish,” the researchers wrote in a recent issue of the Journal of Archeological Science. But this water feature predates the arrival of Europeans.
The city of Palenque was built around the year 100 in a constricted area with little land to build on and spread out to. By the time the city’s population hit its zenith during the Classic Maya period from 250-600, Mayans had saved precious urban space by routing streams beneath plazas using aqueduct-like structures. 
The pressurized water feature is called Piedras Bolas Aqueduct, a spring-fed channel on steep terrain.  From the tunnel’s entrance to its outlet 200 feet downhill, the elevation drops about 20 feet and its diameter decreases from 10 feet near the spring to about a half a foot where the water emerges. This combination of a downhill flow and sudden channel restriction pressurized the water, shooting it from the opening to an estimated height of 20 feet.
The researchers don’t know for sure how the Maya used the pressurized water, but they have a couple of ideas. One possibility is they used it to lift water into the nearby residential area for wastewater disposal.Another possibility, and the idea the researchers used as their model, was as a fountain.
A similar feature was found in the city’s palace. 

Mayan king may have been a foreigner

From Science News:

A man’s skeleton found atop a stone slab at Copán, which was the capital of an ancient Maya state, contains clues to a colonial expansion that occurred more than 1,000 years before Spanish explorers reached the Americas.
The bones come from K’inich Yax K’uk’ Mo’, or KYKM for short, the researchers report in an upcoming Journal of Anthropological Archaeology. KYKM was the first of 16 kings who ruled Copán and surrounding highlands of what is today northern Honduras for about 400 years, from 426 to 820, say archaeologist T. Douglas Price of the University of Wisconsin–Madison and his colleagues. KYKM’s bone chemistry indicates that he grew up in the central Maya lowlands, which are several hundred kilometers northwest of Copán.
Along with inscriptions at Copán, the new evidence suggests that the site’s first king was born into a ruling family at Caracol, a powerful lowland kingdom in Belize. KYKM probably spent his young adult years as a member of the royal court at Tikal, a Maya kingdom in the central lowlands of Guatemala, before being sent to Copán to found a new dynasty at the settlement there, Price’s team proposes.
“These findings reinforce the notion that the Copán state was founded as part of a colonial expansion,” says archaeologist and study coauthor Robert Sharer of the University of Pennsylvania in Philadelphia. “They also demonstrate the widespread connections maintained by Maya kings.” This line of investigation aims to unravel how Classic era Maya city-states, which dominated parts of Mexico and Central America from about 200 to 900, originated and developed.
Hieroglyphics at Copán that were deciphered more than 20 years ago refer to KYKM as a foreigner who was inaugurated as king in 426 and arrived the next year. But it has been unclear whether the inscriptions referred to an actual historical event or were a form of royal propaganda. In 2007, archaeologist David Stuart of the University of Texas at Austin noticed that an inscription carved on a Copán stone monument referred to KYKM by a title indicating that he was originally a Caracol lord.
Archaeologists Arlen Chase and Diane Chase of the University of Central Florida in Orlando, who direct excavations at Caracol, consider it plausible that Copán’s first king was a Caracol lord but doubt that he arrived via Tikal. No signs of a political relationship between Caracol and Tikal appear at the time that KYKM took over at Copán, Arlen Chase notes.
Instead, KYKM probably came directly from Caracol, Arlen Chase says. By the year 150, Caracol hosted numerous royal activities and had extensive ties to settlements near Copán. “It would not be surprising for Copán to have coveted a Caracol individual to become their first ruler,” he says.

Photo Credit: Courtesy of the Early Copán Acropolis Program, U. of Penn. Museum and Instituto Hondureno de Antropologia e Historia

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Archaeology News

This was also posted in my other blog, The Art of Science:

First news item: the cave paintings at Lascaux (France) are currently being threatened by mold. One of the possible causes: bright lights. The caves have a history of threats, all directly or indirectly caused by humans. This case exemplifies the hard challenges faced with old artifacts – or just limited natural resources in general – and weighing the benefits of preservation/isolation, scientific intervention and study, and public access to knowledge and such resources.

Next up: The re-creation of musical instruments from Central America. The story discusses Roberto Velazquez, a musical historian/archaeologist/mechanical engineer who studies ancient musical instruments found in archaeological sites all over Central America and recreates them and experiments with their sounds. What is not mentioned but inferred is the spectral analysis done on these instruments in order to determine what they are made out of – clay mostly, but also feathers, reeds, frog bones? – and how to recreate them. Velazquez will also experiment with making sounds with the flutes and whistles, and some of them are really eery; there is a sound clip with samples of all the different sounds, and I was not prepared for the first sounds that they played. It was from the appropriately-named Whistle of Death, and it is creepy to put it mildly.

*Edit*: exclusive only to Complex Interplay and MSNBC: Archaeologists have determined when Odysseus finally made it home.


Mayan Manioc farmers

Archaeologists have finally found good, hard evidence that Mayan people farmed manioc as a way of sustaining their large communities:,1,6721763.story?coll=la-headlines-nation&track=crosspromo