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Archaeologists Unearth New Information on Origins of Maya Civilization

The Maya civilization is well-known for its elaborate temples, sophisticated writing system, and mathematical and astronomical developments, yet the civilization’s origins remain something of a mystery.

A new University of Arizona study in the journal Science challenges the two prevailing theories on how the ancient civilization began, suggesting its origins are more complex than previously thought.

Anthropologists typically fall into one of two competing camps with regard to the origins of Maya civilization. The first camp believes that it developed almost entirely on its own in the jungles of what is now Guatemala and southern Mexico. The second believes that the Maya civilization developed as the result of direct influences from the older Olmec civilization and its center of La Venta.

It’s likely that neither of those theories tells the full story, according to findings by a team of archaeologists led by UA husband-and-wife anthropologists Takeshi Inomata and Daniela Triadan.

“We really focused on the beginning of this civilization and how this remarkable civilization developed,” said Inomata, UA professor of anthropology and the study’s lead author.

In their excavations at Ceibal, an ancient Maya site in Guatemala, researchers found that Ceibal actually predates the growth of La Venta as a major center by as much as 200 years, suggesting that La Venta could not have been the prevailing influence over early Mayan development.

That does not make the Maya civilization older than the Olmec civilization – since Olmec had another center prior to La Venta – nor does it prove that the Maya civilization developed entirely independently, researchers say.

What it does indicate, they say, is that both Ceibal and La Venta probably participated in a broader cultural shift taking place in the period between 1,150-800 B.C.

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kqedscience:

What are those things? They were first seen in 1998; they don’t look like anything we have here on Earth. To this day, no one is sure what they are, but we now know this: They come, then they go. Every Martian spring, they appear out of nowhere, showing up — 70 percent of the time — where they were the year before. They pop up suddenly, sometimes overnight. When winter comes, they vanish.”

Read more from NPR’s Robert Krulwich.