The Technological Wow Factor of Archaeology

Crist’s post about this fascinating National Geographic article last week touched on its excellent graphics but barely began to scratch the surface of the amazing technology that would certainly have left the readers of the early issues of the magazine speechless.

In addition to the world-class photography, the interactive 3-D graphic of the frieze above uses SketchFab technology to allow viewers to not only zoom in and out, but to turn the object around in all directions, as if handling it in person. Do take the time to play with it! Continue reading

Come Back To Belize, Meg Lowman!

We have mentioned Meg more than once since we met her a few years ago, because our interests are aligned. Thanks to this public radio station for reminding me that Meg is due for a visit to Belize (I say wishfully) for a 20-years later discovery trip, and we will be happy to see her at Chan Chich Lodge when the time comes:

megmalaysiaFor over 30 years, Dr. Meg Lowman –Canopy Meg, has designed hot-air balloons and walkways for treetop exploration to solve mysteries in the world’s forests, especially insect pests and ecosystem health. Meg is affectionately called the mother Continue reading

Snake Kings And Other Discoveries

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CALAKMUL In the seventh century A.D. the Snake rulers presided over this capital city—in what today is southern Mexico—and its largest structure, a pyramid 180 feet tall. From Calakmul they managed an intricate web of alliances. CONSEJO NACIONAL PARA LA CULTURA Y LAS ARTES (CONACULTA), INSTITUTO NACIONAL DE ANTROPOLOGÍA E HISTORIA (INAH), MEXICO

Discoveries in the lands once populated by the Maya continue apace. As Chan Chich Lodge completes three decades of archeological exploration, the wonders of three millennia are uncovered. The stories that capture my interest the most, related to the Maya, are about the man-nature relationship.

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JEROME COOKSON, NG STAFF
SOURCE: DAVID FREIDEL, WASHINGTON UNIVERSITY IN ST. LOUIS

Erik Vance published this story last year, and when I read it then I remember thinking that it was the best article I had ever read in National Geographic. Partly, the graphics are better, if that is possible, than the typically excellent quality the magazine is known for. Also, the topic is more topical for me now. Chan Chich Lodge is situated exactly where the o in Holmul is on the map to the left. The lodge’s Maya foundations are situated at the periphery of where the snake kings once ruled.

And we now have an ethnobotanical initiative linking Maya foodways to our surrounding nature conservation. That initiative is linked to the lodge’s food program, with some high expectations related to our abundant forests. But mainly, with regard to this article, the writing illuminating the topic is excellent:

…Two warring city-states were locked in perennial conflict, grappling for supremacy. For a brief period one of those city-states prevailed and became the closest thing to an empire in Maya history. It was ruled by the Snake kings of the Kaanul dynasty, which until just a few decades ago no one even knew existed. Thanks to sites around this city-state, including Holmul, archaeologists are now piecing together the story of the Snake kings…

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Masks from the tombs at Calakmul were meant to ease the passage of the Snake elite into the next world. Royal visages made of green jade, more valuable than gold to the ancient Maya, evoked the annual agricultural cycle and regeneration. CONACULTA, INAH, MEXICO (BOTH) PHOTOGRAPHED AT (LEFT TO RIGHT): NATIONAL PALACE, MEXICO CITY; MUSEO DE SITIO DE COMALCALCO, MEXICO

Understanding Tapir

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Fossils of Macrauchenia patachonica, as depicted in this artist’s reconstruction, baffled Darwin. The odd mammals disappeared about 12,000 years ago. Credit Jorge Blanco

I am sure I remember seeing these in my childhood collection of books with pictures of prehistoric creatures. Like many boys, the saber-tooth tiger was a favorite, which may explain my preoccupation with the big cats at Chan Chich Lodge. When you favor cats, you get to know their diet, so creatures like these in the image above were also among those I was fascinated by, which would explain why the tapir I have seen in the forests surrounding Chan Chich are among my lifetime favorite wild animal sightings. Thanks to Steph Yin for this story:

Strange Mammals That Stumped Darwin Finally Find a Home

It looked like many different animals and, at the same time, like no other animal at all.

From afar, you might think it was a large, humpless camel. Tall, stout legs ending in rhino feet carried a body weight potentially equal to that of a small car. Its neck stretched like a giraffe’s before giving way to a face resembling a saiga antelope’s. From this face extended a fleshy protuberance, similar to a mini elephant trunk or a tapir’s proboscis. Continue reading

Birds Banging On Drums

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A male palm cockatoo, right, drumming with a stick for a female. Credit Christina Zdenek

Todd Rundgren, a musical talent better known to an earlier generation, had an oddball hit song about banging on drums. It came to mind immediately when reading this oddball story about cockatoos. If you do not already know the song, you might want to find it to accompany your reading of this story:

Whales and songbirds produce sounds resembling human music, and chimpanzees and crows use tools. But only one nonhuman animal is known to marry these two skills.

Palm cockatoos from northern Australia modify sticks and pods and use them to drum regular rhythms, according to new research published in Science Advances on Wednesday. In most cases, males drop beats in the presence of females, suggesting they perform the skill to show off to mates. The birds even have their own signature cadences, not unlike human musicians. Continue reading

A Day In the Life of the Chan Chich Archaeological Project

When Crist wrote about the Chan Chich Archaeological Project in April it was in anticipation of the group’s arrival. Now that we’re several weeks in I’ve had the opportunity to assist them first hand, in part as a “guinea pig” for guest involvement as citizen science participants. Fellow contributor Phil Karp (a veteran of many citizen science programs) was enthusiastically up  for the experience as well.

The team of archaeologists and field school students, led by Texas Tech University associate professor Dr. Brett Houk, is studying the ancient Maya at Chan Chich and surrounding sites. Several weeks into their dig they’ve made significant progress, and they gamely accepted the challenge of taking novices into their ranks.

We began at the beginning, well known to be the very best place to start, with a new “lot” located next to a well-established excavated area. Continue reading

Investigator Of The Abyss

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Courtesy of Museums Victoria / CSIRO

Thanks to National Public Radio (USA) and Kat Lonsdorf for a brief look into the deep work of Tim O’Hara:

Explorers Probing Deep Sea Abyss Off Australia’s Coast Find Living Wonders

Far below the surface of the ocean, off the coast of eastern Australia is an area simply known as “the abyss.” The largest and deepest habitat on the planet, the abyssal zone stretches well beyond Australia’s waters and spans half the world’s oceans — but it remains largely unexplored. Continue reading

Lost & Found, Lizard Edition

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For nearly two centuries, Varanus douarrha was an enigma. Now it has been resurrected. PHOTOGRAPH COURTESY VALTER WEIJOLA

In our book, lost and found is normally half glass full (versus half empty) new that we enjoy sharing, and this one counts as more than half full due to the intrigue of the history and the odd charisma of the creature:

A LIZARD LOST AT SEA MAKES ITS RETURN

By Marguerite Holloway

On June 27, 1824, a trading vessel en route from Mauritius to England was caught in a powerful gale. For ten days, winds pounded the King George IV until it could no longer hold together. In three perilous traverses, a small rescue boat shuttled those aboard to a beach near the Cape of Good Hope. “Neither myself nor the passengers have saved a single article,” the captain later wrote. “Probably they may cast up in time.” Amid the lost cargo—mostly sugar, cotton, and cloves—were three cases of scientific specimens. Continue reading

Lapham’s Quarterly, Now On Soundcloud As A Podcast

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IMAGE: Discovery En Route to Antarctica (detail), by Vincent Alexander Booth, 2014. © Private Collection / Bridgeman Images.

Lewis Lapham has shown up in our pages here exactly once in the past. Mainly because, in the six years we have been posting on this platform, his own publication was not as accessible as others we have been linking to. Surely there was a purpose to the walls constructed around it, but we are happy that, for whatever reason, they have come down. Just the illustration above and the quotations below should make you want  to read more:

Evolution has arranged that we take pleasure in understanding—those who understand are more likely to survive.
—Carl Sagan

I’m sorry I know so little; I’m sorry we all know so little. But that’s kind of the fun, isn’t it?
—Vera Rubin

Lapham

We sample the opening two paragraphs after the jump below, and recommend savoring his writing, but we also have been on the podcast bandwagon since we started on this platform. If you have already been enjoying Lewis Lapham’s publication, and wishing it were available in an audible format, today is your lucky day (click the soundcloud banner here to listen). Continue reading

Plants, Water & Sound

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Thanks to Brandon Keim and Anthropocene for this summary of some recent science exploring the reactions of flora to sound in their search for water:

Plants can hear water. Could noise pollution interfere?

There’s a transformation underway in how people think about plants: not just as inanimate biological objects, but as capable of perceptions and actions that resemble the intelligent behaviors of animals. Continue reading

Music That Inspires On Multiple Notes

Musicologist and conductor Laurie Stras

While I personally don’t focus on organized religion, I can’t deny the power of sacred music to uplift my spirit. This story of inspired Renaissance composition and modern-day curiosity resonates with historical sleuthing and musical puzzle solving.

Click on the Sound Cloud musical links, close your eyes and breathe deep.

Sisters doing it for themselves: radical motets from a 16th-century nunnery

Eight years ago, leafing through a bibliography of 16th-century music prints (like you do), my eye was caught by the title of a motet: “Salve sponsa Dei.” “Bride of Christ,” I thought. “Must be for nuns!”

It was one of 23 anonymous motets published together in 1543, so I did what any self-respecting nunologist would do, and ordered a reproduction of the book. As I put the motets into a usable edition for modern singers, I found they were unlike any other 16th-century music I’d ever seen. They were dense, intense and sometimes startlingly dissonant.

The music – for five equal voices (of unspecified sex) – is astonishingly beautiful and yet strange, radical even. These works had lain unsung and unloved for almost four centuries, mostly because they were anonymous. These days, anonymity suggests that whoever created the book, music, painting or whatever was not important enough, or the product is not good enough, for anyone to care who made it. But in the 16th century, anonymity was also an important way for members of the nobility to disguise their participation in commercial ventures that were considered beneath them (which is why Gesualdo, a prince, published his madrigals anonymously).

But Virginia Woolf was right when she said: “Anonymous was a woman.” Continue reading

Heavenly Particles Made Visible

9780760352649This is among the more unusual book reviews in a while, thanks to the Science section of the New York Times, and William J. Broad. We appreciate a radically new perspective every now and then:

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Varieties of space dust, barely the width of a human hair. These photomicrographs were made with a special camera setup that magnifies the dust grains nearly 3,000 times. CreditJan Braly Kihle/Jon Larsen

After decades of failures and misunderstandings, scientists have solved a cosmic riddle — what happens to the tons of dust particles that hit the Earth every day but seldom if ever get discovered in the places that humans know best, like buildings and parking lots, sidewalks and park benches.

The answer? Nothing. Look harder. The tiny flecks are everywhere.

An international team found that rooftops and other cityscapes readily collect the extraterrestrial dust in ways that can ease its identification, contrary to science authorities who long pooh-poohed the idea as little more than an urban myth Continue reading

Massive Scale of Discovery In Remaining Forests Inspires, Raising The Stakes For Conservation

Diving For Megalodon

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Hunting the teeth of the Megalodon, the largest shark that ever lived, can be very profitable—and very dangerous. ILLUSTRATION BY JEE-OOK CHOI

Thanks to Brent Crane for this posting about a search for one of prehistory’s wonders:

On a sunny January morning outside Richmond Hill, Georgia, Bill Eberlein, a fifty-two-year-old former I.T. specialist, went diving in a local creek. He wore a wetsuit, a drysuit, a dive hood, and an orange kayaking helmet affixed with a waterproof headlamp, whose ten thousand lumens would afford him six inches of visibility under the murky water. Continue reading

Millenia-Old Amazonian Practices Worthy Of Marvel

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New research suggests people were sustainably managing the Amazon rain forest much earlier than was previously thought. Credit Jenny Watling

Anything with the word Amazon in it, when it refers to the rainforest ecosystem in South America, is worthy of marvel. Joanna Klein offers this story, in the Trilobites feature at the New York Times, that is one of the more surprising finds we have seen in a long time:

Deep in the Amazon, the rain forest once covered ancient secrets. Spread across hundreds of thousands of acres are massive, geometric earthworks. The carvings stretch out in circles and squares that can be as big as a city block, with trenches up to 12 yards wide and 13 feet deep. They appear to have been built up to 2,000 years ago.

Were the broken ceramics found near the entrances used for ritual sacrifices? Why were they here? The answer remains a mystery. Continue reading

Lost & Found, Continental Edition

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Mauritius sits on part of an ancient continent. Keystone USA-ZUMA/REX/Shutterstock

Long-lost continent found submerged deep under Indian Ocean

An ancient continent that was once sandwiched between India and Madagascar now lies scattered on the bottom of the Indian Ocean.

The first clues to the continent’s existence came when some parts of the Indian Ocean were found to have stronger gravitational fields than others, indicating thicker crusts. One theory was that chunks of land had sunk and become attached to the ocean crust below.  Continue reading

Protect This Coral Reef

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GREENPEACE

Thanks to the old school model mad outfit, Greenpeace, for bringing this to our attention in a fresh press release today, that adds urgency to earlier announcements starting last year on this rare and unexpected find:

Greenpeace captures first underwater images of Amazon Coral Reef

Recifes da foz do rio Amazonas.Crédito obrigatório: Divulgação/Greenpeace

GREENPEACE

Amapá state, Brazil, 28 January 2017 – Greenpeace Brazil has captured the first underwater images of the Amazon Reef, a 9500 km2 system of corals, sponges and rhodoliths located where the Amazon River meets the Atlantic Ocean – an area that the Brazilian government has opened for oil exploration.

Recifes da foz do rio Amazonas.Crédito obrigatório: Divulgação/Greenpeace

GREENPEACE

A team of experts, including several oceanographers who announced the discovery of the reef last year, have joined the Greenpeace ship Esperanza on an expedition to document this new biome, which runs from French Guyana to the Brazilian state of Maranhão, an area larger than the cities of São Paulo or London.[1] Oil companies Total and BP could start drilling in this area if they obtain authorization from the Brazilian government. Continue reading

Spanish Speleological Speculation

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Raul Perez Lopez peers into the darkness of CJ-3, a cave that’s mysteriously losing its oxygen. (Credit: Antonio Marcos Nuez)

Discover Magazine’s blog has a post by Anna Bitong, who offers a few clues to help us understand what is happening in the deep recesses of a cave in Spain:

…A sign at the entrance warns visitors not to enter. Continue reading

Mayan City, Deep Jungle Discovery

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Mr. Preston shares an experience that is not familiar to many people, and perhaps only considered enviable by a select few. The team at Chan Chich Lodge meets visitors every day of the year who are looking for a distant cousin of this experience described below, and those guests come away invariably awed by the opportunity to have a safe, comfortable adventure deep in nature, exploring well protected remains of a Mayan civilization buried by time and jungle. For them, this is worth a read:

AN ANCIENT CITY EMERGES IN A REMOTE RAIN FOREST

…The revelation of an ancient city in a valley in the Mosquitia mountains, of Honduras, one of the last scientifically unexplored regions on Earth, was a different story. This was the first time a large archaeological site had been discovered in a purely speculative search using a technology called lidar, or “light detection and ranging,” which can map terrain through the thickest jungle foliage, an event I chronicled in a story for the magazine in 2013. As a result, this discovery revealed something vanishingly rare: a city in an absolutely intact, undisturbed, pristine state, buried in a rain forest so remote and untouched that the animals there appeared never to have seen people before. Continue reading

Fabulous Food Chain Phenomenon

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A chemosynthetic clam living in sea grass. Researchers are not sure how lobsters dig them up. Credit Nicholas Higgs

Thanks to the Science section of the New York Times for this article, The Freaky Food Chain Behind Your Lobster Dinner, by Steph Yin:

If you’ve ever ordered a lobster tail from Red Lobster, there’s a good chance some of your meal can be traced back to swamp gas.

Let me explain.

Red Lobster is a major purchaser of Caribbean spiny lobster, a species that lives in coral reefs in the western Atlantic Ocean. In the 1980s, lobster fishers started constructing artificial reefs in sea grass beds throughout the Caribbean to attract these lobsters. Continue reading