Tikal Maya Ruins
Science & Technology

Archaeologists Discover Almost 500 Ancient Ceremonial Sites in Southern Mexico

Tikal, the ruins of an historic metropolis, is among the most well-known archeological websites of Maya civilization.

The invention shifts researchers’ understanding of the connection between the Olmec civilization and the next Maya civilization.

A staff of worldwide researchers led by the College of Arizona reported final 12 months that they’d uncovered the biggest and oldest Maya monument – Aguada Fénix. That very same staff has now uncovered practically 500 smaller ceremonial complexes which can be comparable in form and options to Aguada Fénix. The discover transforms earlier understanding of Mesoamerican civilization origins and the connection between the Olmec and the Maya individuals.

The staff’s findings are detailed in a brand new paper printed in the journal Nature Human Behaviour. College of Arizona anthropology professor Takeshi Inomata is the paper’s first creator. His UArizona coauthors embrace anthropology professor Daniela Triadan and Accelerator Mass Spectrometry Lab director Greg Hodgins.

Melina García (entrance) excavates the central a part of Aguada Fenix, the biggest and oldest Maya monument ever uncovered. A staff of UArizona researchers reported on the invention in 2020. The staff has since uncovered practically 500 smaller ceremonial complexes which can be comparable in form and options to Aguada Fénix. Credit score: Takeshi Inomata

Utilizing information gathered by way of an airborne laser mapping method known as lidar, the researchers recognized 478 complexes in the Mexican states of Tabasco and Veracruz. Lidar penetrates the tree cover and displays three-dimensional types of archaeological options hidden below vegetation. The lidar information was collected by the Mexican governmental group Instituto Nacional de Estadística y Geografía and lined a 32,800-square-mile space, which is about the identical dimension because the island of Eire.

Publicly obtainable lidar information permits researchers to check big areas earlier than they observe up with high-resolution lidar to check websites of curiosity in higher element.

“It was unthinkable to check an space this huge till a couple of years in the past,” Inomata mentioned. “Publicly obtainable lidar is reworking archaeology.”

There’s a longstanding debate over whether or not the Olmec civilization led to the event of the Maya civilization or if the Maya developed independently.

The newly uncovered websites are positioned in a broad space encompassing the Olmec area and the western Maya lowlands. The complexes have been doubtless constructed between 1100 B.C. and 400 B.C. and have been constructed by numerous teams practically a millennium earlier than the heyday of the Maya civilization between A.D. 250 and 950.

Almost 500 ceremonial websites have been uncovered utilizing lidar and have been mapped throughout the research web site. Credit score: Inomata et al.

The researchers discovered that the complexes share comparable options with the earliest middle in the Olmec space, San Lorenzo, which peaked between 1400 and 1100 BC. Aguada Fenix in the Maya space and different associated websites started to undertake San Lorenzo’s type and formalize it round 1100 BC.

At San Lorenzo, the staff additionally discovered a beforehand unrecognized rectangular house.

“The websites are large horizontally however not vertically,” Inomata mentioned. “Folks can be strolling on one and gained’t discover its rectangular house, however we will see it with lidar actually properly.”

The researchers’ work means that San Lorenzo served as a template for later constructions, together with Aguada Fénix.

Excavation efforts at one of many practically 500 uncovered websites, La Carmelita. Credit score: Takeshi Inomata

“Folks all the time thought San Lorenzo was very distinctive and totally different from what got here later in phrases of web site association,” Inomata mentioned. “However now we present that San Lorenzo is similar to Aguada Fénix – it has an oblong plaza flanked by edge platforms. These options turn out to be very clear in lidar and are additionally discovered at Aguada Fénix, which was constructed a bit of bit later. This tells us that San Lorenzo is essential for the start of a few of these concepts that have been later utilized by the Maya.”

The websites uncovered by Inomata and his collaborators have been doubtless used as ritual gathering websites, in response to the paper. They embrace giant central open areas the place a number of individuals might collect and take part in rituals.

The researchers additionally analyzed every web site’s orientation and located that the websites appear to be aligned to the dawn of a sure date, when attainable.

“There are many exceptions; for instance, not each web site has sufficient house to position the oblong type in a desired course, however once they can, they appear to have chosen sure dates,” Inomata mentioned.

Whereas it’s not clear why the precise dates have been chosen, one risk is that they could be tied to Zenith passage day, which is when the solar passes immediately overhead. This happens on Could 10 in the area the place the websites have been discovered. Today marks the start of the wet season and the planting of maize. Some teams selected to orient their websites to the instructions of the dawn on days 40, 60, 80 or 100 days earlier than the zenith passage day. That is important as a result of the later Mesoamerican calendars are based mostly on the quantity 20.

San Lorenzo, Aguada Fénix, and another websites have 20 edge platforms alongside the jap and western sides of the oblong plaza. Edge platforms are mounds positioned alongside the sides of the massive rectangular plazas. They outline the form of the plazas, and every are often no taller than about 3 ft.

“Because of this they have been representing cosmological concepts by way of these ceremonial areas,” Inomata mentioned. “On this house, individuals gathered in response to this ceremonial calendar.”

Inomata burdened that that is just the start of the staff’s work.

“There are nonetheless a number of unanswered questions,” he mentioned.

Researchers marvel what the social group of the individuals who constructed the complexes appeared like. San Lorenzo probably had rulers, which is usually recommended by sculptures.

“However Aguada Fénix doesn’t have these issues,” Inomata mentioned. “We expect that individuals have been nonetheless one way or the other cellular, as a result of they’d simply begun to make use of ceramics and lived in ephemeral constructions on the bottom degree. Folks have been in transition to extra settled lifeways, and plenty of of these areas most likely didn’t have a lot hierarchical group. However nonetheless, they might make this sort of very well-organized middle.”

Inomata’s staff and others are nonetheless looking for extra proof to clarify these variations in social group.

“Persevering with to excavate the websites to search out these solutions will take for much longer,” Inomata mentioned, “and can contain many different students.”

Reference: “Origins and unfold of formal ceremonial complexes in the Olmec and Maya areas revealed by airborne lidar” by Takeshi Inomata, Juan Carlos Fernandez-Diaz, Daniela Triadan, Miguel García Mollinedo, Flory Pinzón, Melina García Hernández, Atasta Flores, Ashley Sharpe, Timothy Seashore, Gregory W. L. Hodgins, Juan Javier Durón Díaz, Antonio Guerra Luna, Luis Guerrero Chávez, María de Lourdes Hernández Jiménez and Manuel Moreno Díaz, 25 October 2021, Nature Human Behaviour.
DOI: 10.1038/s41562-021-01218-1

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