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Using lasers to map archaeological sites

My day job involves laser technology, so this was a nice intersection of study and work. From the New York Times:

in the dry spring season a year ago, the husband-and-wife team of Arlen F. Chase and Diane Z. Chase tried a new approach using airborne laser signals that penetrate the jungle cover and are reflected from the ground below. They yielded 3-D images of the site of ancient Caracol, in Belize, one of the great cities of the Maya lowlands.
In only four days, a twin-engine aircraft equipped with an advanced version of lidar (light detection and ranging) flew back and forth over the jungle and collected data surpassing the results of two and a half decades of on-the-ground mapping, the archaeologists said. After three weeks of laboratory processing, the almost 10 hours of laser measurements showed topographic detail over an area of 80 square miles, notably settlement patterns of grand architecture and modest house mounds, roadways and agricultural terraces.
“We were blown away,” Dr. Diane Chase said recently, recalling their first examination of the images. “We believe that lidar will help transform Maya archaeology much in the same way that radiocarbon dating did in the 1950s and interpretations of Maya hieroglyphs did in the 1980s and ’90s.”

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technology

Mayans had plumbing too

Everybody gets to share!
http://news.discovery.com/earth/mayan-plumbing-more-than-a-pipe-dream.html

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. 
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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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behavior

News highlights from last week

Scottish penguin knighted as part of 30-year service to Norwegian military. Technically it’s the third penguin to serve as the Norwegian mascot, but still, well earned I’m sure (too bad it’s not an emperor penguin).

Cemetery remains of two different cultures separated by several thousand years found in the same spot in the Sahara Desert (apparently much greener once). One woman and her two kids were buried on a bed of flowers; how sweet is that? Awww…

Mayan portal to the world of the dead FOUND! No, really.

Roman empress’ head found too ( not the actual head, just the oversized marble carving of it).

Mothering style can turn on nurturing genes in female mice. First off, who knew there were genes for nurturing?

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Mayan Manioc farmers

Archaeologists have finally found good, hard evidence that Mayan people farmed manioc as a way of sustaining their large communities: http://www.latimes.com/news/nationworld/nation/la-sci-manioc21aug21,1,6721763.story?coll=la-headlines-nation&track=crosspromo