Wednesday, January 30, 2008

On Lost Cities: Lost Inka City of Patiti Found ... Again

The legend of El Dorado, or this case the variant of the Inka city of Patiti, crops up about every six months when a new impressive stone ruin is found in the jungles of South America. Here's the current candidate.

I can't blame them, of course. I remember the false alarms around finding Copan royal founder Yax K'uk' Mo', before his tomb was finally identified for certain. El Mirador was overlooked for decades before it was rediscovered as the greatest of all Maya cities, transforming the picture of early Maya civilization, and Tikal has the Mundo Perdido or "Lost World" pyramid which has a similar history. And closer to Patiti, there is always the tantalizing memory of the lost city of Macchu Picchu, discovered right at the peak of popular interest in explorers and lost cities and other colonial-era fantasticalness.

Back in college, I remember being amazed by the discovery of Ubar using space shuttle imagery and remote sensing to find camel and foot paths. The Moskitia of Honduras has the enduring legend of the White City, Ciudad Blanca. It too is looked for (here's an example) and sometimes found time and again. Initially supposed to be a city of gleaming white stone buildings, in the 20th century viewed from the air in addition to the old tales, it has also taken on the meaning over time of being a lost city of White people. This of course brings to mind the older medieval stories of Prester John and later colonial myths and fiction of lost Roman legions that brought civilization to Africa, reflected in the treatment of Great Zimbabwe. The British Empire had a lost city of its own, Camelot, which has been identified several times, including at Tintagel in Cornwall.

EDIT: Looks like Patiti is still lost

Saturday, January 26, 2008

Amarna's Dead Suggest Brutal Akhetaten

For a long time, conventional wisdom held that the Old Kingdom great Pyramids of Dynastic Egypt were the product of mass slave labor. There were several reasons that this idea was popular, ranging from the understable awe at the task, to stereotypes of the oriental despot, to the bondage described in the Old Testament.

Archaeological excavation has revealed otherwise, that gangs of professional laborers were a major factor in the construction of the Pyramids. But it now seems that there was one Pharoah that ruled in this manner: Akhenaten. to briefly summarize, Amenhotep IV of the 18th Dynasty became the head of a cult of the sun disk, Aten, changed his name to Akhenaten and built a new capital city, Akhetaten. Here, he and his family acted as intermediaries between the Aten and the world, in part by ending worship of the other gods. Akhenaten was swept from historical records and his city abandoned not long after his death.

In much of the 20th century, Akhenaten was a heroic or enlightened figure to many Western scholars and writers, his monotheism a sign of what was to come. He has been linked by modern occult and alternative theorists to Moses (also here). But more recently, the cult of the Pharaoh and his god, of royal military processions and a radical break with the past have led some investigators to view the Amarna period as one of revolutionary dictatorship. Now, osteological evidence from Amarna suggests that the inhabitants were extremely unhealthy and worked into an early grave during construction of the city.

Monday, January 21, 2008

Experiment : Culture Rewires the Brain

Not archaeology, but of importance to anthropology.

A recent study suggests that cultural differences rewire the human brain. In the experiment, cultural differences manifested in how much work the brain had to do in solving certain visual geometry problems, and correlated not just with broad cultural divides, but with individual attitudes regarding cultural values.

Wednesday, January 16, 2008

Ritual Cache Found on Top of Mexico City Cathedral

The article says it is a "time capsule," but lets call it what it is: a magical protective cache. Placed on top of the Metropolitan Cathedral in 1791, the contents include:

- a small case of wax blessed by the Pope that served to protect against mishaps

- an engraving of Saint Barbara, a Roman Catholic martyr associated with lightning whose image served as "a religious lightening rod, to protect against damage," said archaeologist Xavier Cortes

- 23 medals, 5 coins, and five small crosses made of palm fronds - which it said were "for protection from the storms."

I have previously blogged about magical caches left in Anglo- and Anglo-American buildings.

Guatemalan President Announces El Mirador to Become Tourist Park

El Mirador is the cradle of Classic Maya civilization, the first great city. Now swallowed by jungle, two thousand years ago it was a Maya metropolis dotted by numerous pyramid temples, some of them the largest constructions of the Maya world, centuries before the "Classic" period. The city was abandoned before the Classic period began, at least in part due to ecological mismanagement and destruction documented by archaeological projects directed by Richard Hansen. But the Mirador basin was remembered, and scattered activity and settlement continued. The Kan dynasty of Calakmul (which is connected to El Mirador by an ancient road), which dominated much of the Maya world in the 6th and 7th centuries, seem to have clamed the city as their ancestral home.

Shockinlyg, this city only came to light decades after Maya archaeology had become a serious field of study. This was largely due to the remote location of the city and the extremely difficult field conditions. Once the size and age of the city became clear, the entire story of the development of Maya civilization had to be changed, a process that is ongoing.

El Mirador is about to become even more high profile. In his inauguration speech, newly-elected Guatemalan President Alvaro Colom announced plans to open the site the tourism, part of a plan to tame the infamously lawless Peten.

Saturday, January 12, 2008

How Bad Archaeology Should Be Handled

The term pseudoscience is one I don't like. It smacks of a clubhouse, with people who are in, and those who are out. This only breeds contempt for established science and learning.

If someone makes claims that appear to be completely unsupported and crazy, don't call it pseudo. Call it what it is: bad.

And don't just call it that, point out why it is wrong and why another interpretation is right.

Case in point: Colombian gold artifacts have for years been highlighted in books and tv programs claiming that the artifacts are representations of ancient jet planes. Anyone looking at them can see the resemblance, but of course this makes no sense.

Take a look at how Mori handled this, with an initially respectful tone that doesn't speak from authority, but with simple common sense.

Tuesday, January 01, 2008

The Blingdom of God

Irreverent and insightful blog on material culture and spirituality. Not about archaeology, but very much of interest to those who study material culture.