Sunday, November 15, 2009


Maya - Painted Pyramid- Public Life

Maya "Painted Pyramid" Reveals 1st Murals of Daily Life

November 12, 2009—A series of unusual Maya wall murals, complete with hieroglyphic captions, are providing archaeologists with a priceless look at day-to-day life in the empire circa A.D. 620 to 700.

Previously known Maya murals all depict the ruling elite, victories in battle, or religious themes. (Explore a map of Maya ruins.)

But exterior walls on a "painted pyramid" buried for centuries in the Mexican jungle (pictured, a corner of the pyramid undergoing excavations) have shown Maya scholars something completely different.

The murals—discovered in 2004 at the Maya site of Calakmul—depict ordinary people enjoying much more casual pursuits, according to a new, detailed description of the wall art.

"There's really nothing like this in any of the [known] murals. These are totally unexpected," said Maya expert Michael D. Coe, curator emeritus at Yale University's Peabody Museum of Natural History and editor of the new paper.

"This is everyday life with people who are not upper-crust Maya but rather people engaged in everyday activities."

Maya Food and Fashion

The colorful artwork shows the clothing and jewelry worn by various social classes in Calakmul, one of the largest cities of the Classic Maya period, which lasted from A.D. 300 to 900. (Take a Maya quiz.)

During this era, Calakmul was likely the capital of the Kan (Snake) Kingdom, which held great sway over the Maya world.

The murals also depict common foodstuffs as well as people involved in food preparation and distribution, including a "salt person" and a "tobacco person," as they are labeled in the hieroglyphs. (Related: "Ancient Farm Discovery Yields Clues to Maya Diet.")

Other scenes depict corn products that were essential to the Maya diet: A woman distributes a platter of tamales to a crowd in one panel, while a man and woman in another scene serve maize gruel.

What's more, the Calakmul murals' exterior location surprised experts, since other murals were found secreted away inside pyramids.

"In other words, they were public," Coe said of the Calakmul paintings. "They were to be seen by everybody." Luckily for Maya scholars, the painted pyramid's long burial helped preserve the unusual artwork.

Findings published online this week in the journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.

—Brian Handwerk

Picture courtesy PNAS



Head Shrinking - plus Video

Video-Head Shrinking


November 13, 2009—What could be the only footage of an actual human headshrinking ceremony in South America--which shows heads being boiled and dried--may be real, says an explorer in a new documentary.

Warning: Video contains graphic images.© 2009 National Geographic; Video from Nat Geo Channel

Unedited Transcript:

The National Geographic Channel has obtained what may be the only existing footage of an actual human head-shrinking ceremony in South America.

SOUND: Deep within the worlds largest rain forest live a people that once practiced the infamous ritual.. of head-shrinking.

In its special, author and explorer Piers Gibbon set out to find out if the film is genuine.

The film was made in 1961 by Polish Explorer Edmundo Bielawski, who, with a team of seven, set out to explore and document the worlds largest rain forest: The Amazon.

Head-shrinking was only practiced by one portion of the Amazon jungle-dwelling population- the Shuar. Headshrinking was a form of summary justice carried out on enemies. The shrinking process was deemed necessary to stop the victims evil spirit from seeking revenge.

Gibbon describes the process with a re-creation:

SOUNDBITE: Gibbon Firstly the back of the head would be opened. The skin is sliced free from the skull. Care is taken not to damage the facial features. The skull and remaining flesh is removed. The skin is then boiled in water for half an hour. Any longer and the hair may fall out. After being dried in the sun, the skin is turned inside out.

The process is repeated and can take up to six days, until the head is a quarter of its original size.

SOUNDBITE: Firstly the eyes are sewn shut, preventing the victims spirit from seeing out. Wooden pins are placed through the lips and lashed together with string. This stops the soul from asking for their death to be avenged.

Gibbon speaks with a Catholic missionary who has lived there since the 1960s.

SOUNDBITE: How did you explain the the Shuar that they must stop taking vengeance themselves?

He confirms head-shrinking was still occurring during that time, making it possible Bielawski filmed a genuine ceremony.

And, he meets the alleged only surviving warrior from the period. He shows him the film, and the old man confirms his own brother is in the footage.

SOUND: GIBBON He and his brother were separated by the war, but he does know that this brother was involved in Tsantsa ceremonies. After speaking with Tsanimp it seems that Bielawski did filming in this area, but I cant be certain he shot the head-shrinking scene in Tukupi. But having confirmed that Kampurims involvement, it really is possible that Bielawski filmed the only existing footage of a head-shrinking ceremony in progress.

The special, Search for the Amazon Headshrinkers, premieres on the National Geographic Channel Sunday November 15th, 9pm Eastern.


Monday, November 9, 2009


Incan Temple Ruins

Ancient Temple Discovered Among Inca Ruins

Kelly Hearn in Buenos Aires, Argentina
for National Geographic News
March 31, 2008

A temple thought to have once housed idols and mummies has been unearthed near an ancient Inca site in Cusco, Peru.

The temple was discovered outside the ruins of a stone fortress known as Sacsayhuaman, which is thought to have been built by a pre-Inca culture called the Killke around 1100 A.D.

The remains of an ancient temple, pictured here, have been discovered outside the ruins of a stone fortress known as Sacsayhuaman near Cusco, Peru, archaeologists say.

The site is thought to have been built by a pre-Inca culture called the Killke around 1100 A.D. and later occupied and expanded by the Inca.

REUTERS/Andina Agency/Handout (PERU)

The fortress was later occupied and expanded by the Inca, experts say, and its ruins are now a UN World Heritage site.

Scientists who found the temple say its discovery upends theories that the Sacsayhuaman complex was used strictly for military purposes.

"We are in the process of investigating, but we are very excited about what we have found," said Washington Camacho, director of the Sacsayhuaman Archaeological Park.

"We believe that the temple we have found was used for ceremonial purposes."

The temple covers some 2,700 square feet (250 square meters) and contains 11 rooms thought to have held idols and mummies, Camacho said.

The temple contained "funeral structures," he added, and was found next to "an enormous rocky formation" that researchers speculate was used as a "sacred place" prior to the Spanish conquest in the 16th century.

Early Inca Clues

Christina Conlee, an anthropologist at Texas State University who was not part of the excavation, said that the team's theory about the site's ceremonial use seems valid, based on evidence cited in recent media reports.

"I think the discovery is potentially important, because although we know quite a bit about the later Inca Empire, the early Inca and origins of their culture are less well known," she said.

"The finding of an earlier temple near Sacsayhuaman seems to suggest this was a sacred area in pre-imperial times."

Researchers also discovered an ancient footpath or roadway that Camacho said was built during the period of Inca occupation.

"The path connected the fort at Sacsayhuaman with Lake Cochapata," Camacho said.

The roadway was lined with walls of mud and ran approximately 0.25 to 0.3 mile (400 to 500 meters) throughout the complex, Camacho said.

Archaeologists also detected traces of an ancient but simple aqueduct system, a type of gutter that ran alongside the road, possibly supplying water to the ancient city of Cusco.

Brian Bauer, an expert on the Inca at the University of Illinois, Chicago, said the newfound temple expands the known size of the Sacsayhuaman complex.

"The [National Institute of Culture] in Peru has been conducting a series of large scale excavations at Sacsayhuaman for several years," he said.

"This was one of the most important areas of ancient Cusco, and we know that there are early Inca remains there as well.

"The exact function of those earlier remains is unclear, but it is exciting that the complex appears to have been larger than previously thought."


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