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A Yucatan Maya Adventure Report, Colossal Find in Germany, and Snake Bite MagicTop of Form
Ancient Origins Unleashed Debrief
Greetings The Unleashed!
I’ve spent the last week chasing around Maya sites of the Yucatan peninsula in a whirlwind tour. Although the Maya civilization extended way further south into what is now Guatemala, Belize and Honduras, both the advantage and disadvantage of the Maya sites of Yucatan and Quintana Roo in Mexico is their accessibility. Fly into Cancun or Merida, and a plethora of sites are within a couple of hours travel. The downside - the main sites are overrun with tourists.
The area is so important for tourism that the Mexican government is building a train line specifically to serve the ancient sites of the region, and obviously to facilitate as many tourists as possible. This ‘Tren Maya’ is scheduled to open next month, but speaking with one of the engineers working on the project, I was informed completion is a long way off. This had been obvious as we drove past huge bridge components at the side of the road waiting to be assembled. But the ‘Tren Maya’ is certainly on its way.
We visited four well-known and well-explored sites, but discoveries are still being made in ongoing excavations. For example, our guide at Tulum revealed to us that a modified skull had just been recovered from a tomb under excavation, with a cranial modification which gave the skull two domes, something previously never known in the area, and making whoever had such an impressively shaped head a revered individual. Forget the tattoos or Bentleys of today, a double-domed head would really get you kudos in ancient Mesoamerica. Fashion is cyclical, so I wonder when that’ll be back in vogue.
Tulum is a fabulous site, and a pleasure to visit as it is the only Maya settlement located next to the beaches of the Caribbean. It was lived in by priests, and the kings of the time had holiday homes there. It would be visited on certain dates by thousands who wanted to experience the views of the astronomical movements built into the buildings.
The next site we visited was Coba, situated on the route between Tulum and Chichen Itza, and well worth stopping as it is less tourist infested, more jungle, and, although not huge, there are bicycles to hire to get you to the various complexes, which I thought was pretty cool.
Now, of course, the main event on this first visit to the area was a visit Chichen Itza, what with it being one of the Seven Wonders of the Modern World. We were lucky enough to be guided by Raul, a veteran guide who was celebrating 44 years of service at sites around Mexico. Working with the Autonomous University of Yucatan, he had spent plenty of time discussing the theories surrounding the site with students.
Now, I have heard hypotheses about the possible function of the Maya temple network, so I always ask the specific question of what the various temple structures were used for. And I’ve received a variety of answers, depending on the prevailing viewpoint of the person I am asking.
My curiosity about this started when I interviewed Cliff Dunning of Earth Ancients at our Ancient Hi-Tech Conference several years ago, and he told me that over the years several indigenous Maya sources had told him the Maya oral tradition was that they were ancient power plants, used by the star people. Keeping an open mind, when I visited Tikal, an extraordinary Maya settlement in Guatemala earlier this year, I needed to ask the question.
The guide there (who had started the tour specifically stating he would be telling the history of the site from the Maya perspective) told me that they were used by the priests to reach higher states of consciousness, elevated by the high energy of the locations on which they were built. When I pushed him further as to why they were built on areas with high electromagnetic energy, he bluntly stated it was for the refueling of alien aircraft. I continued, “Is there any evidence?”, and he answered that he had seen a photo of it happening. I’d have liked to have been able to examine that photo myself, but of course, it wasn’t forthcoming.
Although I remained skeptical, as the evidence was still purely anecdotal, this response was on a similar line to what Cliff had told me.
So, at Chichen Itza, I was interested to see what Raul, with so many years’ experience and many discussions of the Maya developments had to tell me about the iconic El Castillo ‘pyramid’ at Chichen Itza.
First, he reminded me that the Maya pyramids were not true pyramids, but trapezoid pyramids, with a flat top on which to build the temple building. (Or for the alien craft to land, my open mind mused).
Next, he explained the fascinating astronomical features of El Castillo. “Each side of the pyramid has 91 steps, 4 x 91 equals 364, plus the 1 platform on top makes 365, the days in a year”. It was a monumental calendar. Next, he informed me how the existing El Castillo was the third pyramid built in different eras, encasing two inner pyramids, like a Russian doll. (Maybe alien craft used to use the earlier pyramids?)
I told Raul of the temple-come-energy-generator theories I had heard. The aged expert responded first with a raised eyebrow and a laugh. He answered, “Gary you know, there are theories and there are hypotheses, and there is a big difference between the two.” (to be honest, I wasn’t quite sure of the difference, so I’ve since checked). He continued… “This falls into the latter…”.
If this didn’t quite give me a definitive answer, at least I have now been reminded of the difference between theory and a hypothesis (a hypothesis is basically an idea to be tested, a theory is already backed by evidence, but not proven). My thanks go to Raul for a really educational tour!
I must say, my favorite Maya site to visit remains Tikal, with its multiple tall temples, and the opportunity to climb one before dawn and sit silently whilst the surrounding jungle awakes. The combination of nature and dreaming of the ancient world that once exited there was for me an incredible experience. And you could explore much of the site seemingly alone. The sites of Yucatan are very impressive, but mostly full of tourists, although the site of Coba and with a little more effort, other more secluded sites can be found. That’ll be my next visit.
My top tip, if you do get a chance to visit these places, stay at the on-site hotels to make the most of your visit, particularly Tikal for the sunset and sunrise tours.
And so, to the Editor’s picks of the week (and a bit)….
It’s a big one…
In the historically rich soil of Brandenburg, Germany, archaeologists have unearthed a colossal Bronze Age building, thought to be the fabled meeting hall of King Hinz, a legendary figure purported to be interred in a golden coffin. The Brandenburg State Office for Monument Preservation confirmed the finding of the hall near the royal grave at Seddin, raising speculation and excitement about its connection to the enigmatic ruler.
Spiegel reported that the discovery of the hall, measuring an impressive 31 by 10 meters (102 by 33 feet), was announced by the state archaeologist Franz Schopper as a "spectacular find." The excavation, led by Immo Heske from Georg-August University of Göttingen, began in March and reached completion by fall. This structure is a rare architectural gem from the Nordic Bronze Age, dating back nearly 3,000 years, with only two others known in the area spanning from Denmark to southern Germany.
Researchers were captivated by the hall's dimensions, suggesting it served as a palatial residence. The construction techniques speak volumes about the era’s craftsmanship, with walls of wooden planks, wattle, daub, and clay plaster, topped with a thatched roof. Inside, a central fireplace and an unearthed miniature vessel, likely used in rituals, add to the hall’s aura of mystery and historical importance.
Hmm…Cartagena’s nice this time of year.
A Spanish galleon lying off the coast of Colombia has become a top priority project for the Colombian government, whose president is eager to recover as much as $20 billion in gold, silver, and gems. This is while US treasure hunters are suing for half the value, as a public-private or a solely private venture is set to be expedited by state officials at the behest of the President, who’s up for re-election in 2026.
The British navy sank the 62-gun San José in a battle in 1708. Now, the San Jose galleon has been declared a national mission, 315 years after a ship off the Colombian port of Cartagena tragically sank after its powder magazines detonated during a conflict with the British. On board, not only were there treasures valued at approximately $20 billion in today's currency, there were also 600 sailors, with only 11 survivors among them, reports The Daily Mail.
During that period, the San José was believed to be carrying a treasure amassed over six years, comprising silver from Bolivia, emeralds from Colombia, and a staggering 11 million gold coins. The extraordinary value of its cargo earned it the moniker "the holy grail of shipwrecks."
The ship was recognized for its bronze guns adorned with dolphin engravings and was a component of a fleet en route from Panama to Colombia when it encountered a British squadron during the Spanish War of Succession on June 8, 1708, in the vicinity of the Baru peninsula, off the coast of Cartagena.
Fast forward to 2015, the Colombian government made an announcement that a group of navy divers had successfully located the fabled vessel resting at a depth of nearly 3,100 feet (944m). Just last year, another team managed to capture astonishing images of its impeccably preserved cargo.
“This is one of the priorities for the Petro administration,” Minister of Culture Juan David Correa said Wednesday, in a phone interview to Bloomberg. “The president has told us to pick up the pace.”
Snake bite magic, nasty…
Egyptologists digging in Abusir, between Giza and Saqqara, have discovered the tomb of a previously unknown scribe. Not only was this burial decorated with gods and goddesses and loaded with magical texts, but it was enchanted with magic spells associated with snake bites.
Dated to the middle of the 1st millennium BC, the richly decorated tomb was discovered at the archaeological site of Abusir, located between the renowned archaeological sites of Giza and Saqqara. Abusir is also known for its extensive necropolis and pyramid complexes that date back to the Old Kingdom period [2686-2181 BC].
The discovery of the tomb was made by the Czech Institute of Egyptology (CIE) at Charles University in Prague. The team announced that the tomb was found in western Abusir, in an area that served as a necropolis for “high-ranking officials and military commanders from ancient Egypt's 26th and 27th dynasties”.
Miroslav Bárta, archaeologist with the Czech Institute who led the excavations, told Newsweek that the cemetery to the west of Abusir “is one of the largest known burial grounds in Abusir and Saqqara.” Archaeologist Ladislav Bareš said the upper part of the tomb is above ground, and that it was destroyed a long time ago. However, the burial chamber is located at the bottom of a 5.24 meters [50 feet] deep shaft, and was found to be richly decorated, and to contain several texts and artworks.
The tomb belonged to a previously unknown a royal scribe called “Djehutyemhat,” a dignitary who lived at the time Persian forces invaded Egypt. Analysis of bones recovered from the tomb have determined that Djehutyemhat died around 25 years old, and that he had suffered occupational health problems, including severe osteoporosis and spinal wearing caused from his sedentary work.
I KNEW it wasn’t the modern world’s fault…
Ancient humans inter-breeding with extinct Denisovans have created a genetic make-up and subsequent adaptations that have left many of us predisposed to certain mental health issues like depression, a new study claims. Tracing the evolution of a specific gene most predominantly found amongst East Asians left researchers with the findings that a certain subvariant responsible for zinc regulation and thereby metabolism might be responsible for this slight in evolution.
Around 60,000 years ago, modern humans embarked on the notable event now known as the "Out-of-Africa" migration. As they ventured into Asia, they encountered the Denisovans, a distinct human species, which likely resulted in a mix of interactions including crossbreeding between the two groups, according to the study published in PLoS Genetics.
Throughout the course of human history, various branches of our family tree have engaged in interbreeding and gene exchange, a phenomenon referred to as 'introgression,' which has occurred on multiple occasions.
The research is conducted by the Institute of Evolutionary Biology (IBE), a collaborative institution of the Spanish National Research Council (CSIC) and Pompeu Fabra University (UPF). It is further supported by the UPF Department of Medicine and Life Sciences (MELIS). They noted that while breeding with Denisovans bestowed modern humans with genes that have potentially facilitated adaptation to the cold, they have also heightened the susceptibility to conditions like schizophrenia, depression, anorexia nervosa, amongst others.
They analyzed the genetic profiles of 26 present-day human populations and compared them to the genomes of our extinct relatives. Through this investigation, the scientists identified one of the most widespread traces of Denisovan DNA in modern humans.
"Through genomic analysis, we noted that the genetic variant observed came from our interbreeding with archaic humans in the past, possibly the Denisovans," says evolutionary biologist Ana Roca-Umbert, from UPF.
Til next time, be wary of those hypotheses!
Gary Manners - Senior Editor, Ancient Origins