Mexican Government Returns Stolen Bronze Sculpture to Nigeria
Mexican customs officials thwarted an attempt to smuggle the ancient Yoruba sculpture into the country.
The Mexican government has recently returned a stolen bronze sculpture to Nigeria according to Vanguard.
The ancient sculpture was seized by customs officials at Mexico City Airport following an attempt to reportedly smuggle the artefact into the country.
The bronze sculpture itself is thought to be a 6th-century relic from the southwestern Yoruba City of Ife and depicts a man in woven pants sitting cross-legged and holding an instrument.
While it is still unclear how the artefact was obtained in the first place, Mexico’s Deputy Secretary of Foreign Affairs Julián Ventura Valero says, “We oppose the illegal commercialisation of archaeological pieces, an important cause of the impoverishment of the cultural heritage of the nations of origin, since it undermines the integrity of cultures and, therefore, of humanity.”
Several bronze artefacts ranging from a 19th-century cockerel from Benin City to an 18th-century Ethiopian crown have since been returned to their respective countries over the past few years.
Often the result of looting during the colonial era, the governments of these African countries are now rightly demanding that these stolen pieces of significant cultural history be permanently returned to them and not offered on “long-term loans” as has often been the case.
However, thousands more of these invaluable artefacts from many African countries remain housed in museums across Europe. Revisit our interview with anthropologist and curator Niama Safia Sandy about the politics around the repatriation of African art here.
Modern technology reveals old secrets about the great, white Maya road
Would one of the greatest cities of the ancient Mayan world, the mighty Queen of Cobá, create the longest Mayan road to invade a smaller, isolated neighbor and gain a foothold against the emerging Chichén Itzá empire?
Traci Ardren, a sociology professor at the University of Miami, has been fascinated by the problem for some time now. Now, she and fellow scholars may be a step closer to an answer, after conducting the first lidar study of the 100-kilometer stone highway that connected the ancient cities of Cobá and Yaxuná on the Yucatan Peninsula 13
Once used mainly by meteorologists to study clouds, lidar—short for “light detection and ranging”—technology is revolutionizing archaeology by enabling archaeologists to detect, measure, and map structures are hidden beneath dense vegetation that, in some cases, have grown for centuries, engulfing entire cities.
Often deployed from low-flying aircraft, lidar instruments fire rapid pulses of laser light at a surface and then measure the amount of time it takes for each pulse to bounce back. The differences in the times and wavelengths of the bounce are then used to create digital 3-D maps of hidden surface structures.
The lidar study, which Ardren and fellow researchers with the Proyecto de Interaccion del Centro de Yucatan (PIPCY) conducted in 2014 and 2017 of Sacbe 1—or White Road 1, as the white plaster-coated thoroughfare was called—may shed light on the intentions of Lady K’awiil Ajaw, the warrior queen who Ardren believes commissioned its construction at the turn of the 7th century.
In an analysis of the lidar study, recently published in the Journal of Archaeological Science, the researchers identified more than 8,000 tree-shrouded structures of varying sizes along the sacbe—with enough total volume to fill approximately 2,900 Olympic swimming pools.
The study also confirmed that the road, which measures about 26 feet across, is not a straight line, as has been assumed since Carnegie Institute of Washington archaeologists mapped its entire length in the 1930s, with little more than a measuring tape and a compass.
Rather, the elevated road veered to incorporate preexisting towns and cities between Cobá, which known for its carved monuments depicting bellicose rulers standing over bound captives, controlled the eastern Yucatan, and Yaxuná—a smaller, older, city in the middle of the peninsula. Yet, the isolated Yaxuná (pronounced Ya-shoo-na) still managed to build a pyramid nearly three times bigger and centuries before Chichén Itzá’s more famous Castillo, about 15 miles away.
“The lidar really allowed us to understand the road in much greater detail. It helped us identify many new towns and cities along the road—new to us, but preexisting the road,” Ardren said. “We also now know the road is not straight, which suggests that it was built to incorporate these preexisting settlements, and that has interesting geopolitical implications. This road was not just connecting Cobá and Yaxuná; it connected thousands of people who lived in the intermediary region.”
It was partly Yaxuná’s proximity to Chichén Itzá, Mexico’s most famous Maya ruin which flourished after Yaxuná and Cobá waned, that led Ardren and other PIPCY researchers to theorize that K’awiil Ajaw built the road to invade Yaxuná and gain a foothold in the middle of the peninsula. Coba’s ruler for several decades beginning in 640 A.D., she is depicted in stone carvings trampling over her bound captives.
“I personally think the rise of Chichén Itzá and its allies motivated the road,” Ardren said. “It was built just before 700, at the end of the Classic Period, when Cobá is making a big push to expand. It’s trying to hold on to its power, so with the rise of Chichén Itzá, it needed a stronghold in the center of the peninsula.
The road is one of the last-gasp efforts of Cobá to maintain its power. And we believe it may have been one of the accomplishments of K’awiil Ajaw, who is documented as having conducted wars of territorial expansion.”
To test their theory, Ardren, an expert on gender in ancient Maya society who edited the 2002 book “Ancient Maya Women,” and fellow PIPCY scholars received funding from the National Science Foundation to excavate ancient household clusters along the great white road.
Their goal is to determine the degree of similarities between the household goods in Cobá and Yaxuná before and after the road was built. The thinking, Ardren said, is that after the road linking the two cities, the goods found in Yaxuná would show increasing similarities to Cobá’s.
So far, the researchers have excavated household clusters on the edge of both Cobá and Yaxuná, and they plan to begin the third dig this summer, at a spot informed by the lidar study. It sits between the two ancient Maya cities, on the great, white road that Ardren says would have glowed brightly even in the dark of night.
As she noted, the road was as much an engineering marvel as the monumental pyramids the Maya erected across southern Mexico, Guatemala, northern Belize, and western Honduras.
Although built over undulating terrain, the road was flat, with the uneven ground filled in with huge limestone boulders, and the surface coated with bright, white plaster. Essentially the same formula the Romans used for concrete in the third century B.C., the plaster was made by burning limestone and adding lime and water to the mixture.
“It would have been a beacon through the dense green of cornfields and fruit trees,” Ardren said. “All the jungle we see today wasn’t there in the past because the Maya cleared these areas. They needed wood to build their homes. And now that we know the area was densely occupied, we know they needed a lot of wood. Because they also needed it to burn limestone”—and build the longest road in the Maya world 13 centuries ago.
Mexico earthquake reveals lost ancient temple inside the pyramid
The remains of the great pyramid of Teopanzolco have long offered visitors to the southern Mexican site unique insights into the structure’s inner workings while simultaneously conjuring visions of the intricate temples that once arose from its series of bases and platforms.
Today, remnants of twin temples—to the north, a blue one dedicated to the Aztec rain god Tláloc, and to the south, a red one dedicated to the Aztec sun god Huitzilopochtli—still top the pyramid’s central platform, joined by parallel staircases.
Although archaeologists have intermittently excavated the Teopanzolco site since 1921, it took a deadly 7.1 magnitude earthquake to unveil one of the pyramid’s oldest secrets: an ancient shrine buried about six-and-a-half feet below Tláloc’s main temple.
According to BBC News, scientists from Mexico’s National Institute of Anthropology and History (INAH) discovered the temple while scanning the pyramid for structural issues.
The earthquake, which struck central Mexico on September 19, 2017, caused “considerable rearrangement of the core of [the pyramid’s] structure,” INAH archaeologist Bárbara Konieczna said in a statement.
For local news outlet El Sol de Cuernavaca, Susana Paredes reports that some of the most serious damage occurred in the upper part of the pyramid, where the twin temples are located; the floors of both structures had sunk and bent, leaving them dangerously destabilized.
To begin recovery efforts, archaeologists created wells in the temple dedicated to Tláloc and a corridor separating the two temples.
During this work, the team unearthed a previously unknown structure, which featured a similar architectural style—double facade walls covered in elongated stones and stucco-encased slabs—to that of the existing Tláloc temple.
In the statement, Konieczna notes that the temple would have measured about 20 feet by 13 feet and was probably dedicated to Tláloc, just like the one located above it. It’s possible that a matching temple dedicated to Huitzilopochtli lies on the opposite side of the newly located one, buried by later civilizations’ architectural projects.
The humidity of the Morelos region had damaged the temple’s stucco walls, according to a press release, but archaeologists were able to save some of the remaining fragments.
Below the shrine’s stuccoed floors, they found a base of tezontle, a reddish volcanic rock widely used in Mexican construction, and a thin layer of charcoal. Within the structure, archaeologists also discovered shards of ceramic and an incense burner.
Paredes of El Sol de Cuernavaca notes that the temple likely dates to about 1150 to 1200 C.E. Comparatively, the main structure of the pyramid dates to between 1200 and 1521, indicating that later populations built over the older structures.
The Teopanzolco site originated with the Tlahuica civilization, which founded the city of Cuauhnahuac (today is known as Cuernavaca) around 1200, as G. William Hood chronicles for Viva Cuernavaca. During the 15th century, the Tlahuica people were conquered by the Aztecs, who, in turn, took over the construction of the Teopanzolco pyramids.
Following the 16th-century arrival of the Spanish conquistadors, the project was abandoned, leaving the site untouched until its 1910 rediscovery by Emiliano Zapata’s revolutionary forces.
9,900-year-old Mexican female skeleton distinct from other early Native American settlers
According to a research published at PLOS ONE on the 5th February 2020 by Wolfgang Stinnesbeck of the University of Heidelberg, the new skeleton discovered in the submerged caves of Tulum sheds light on the earliest settlers in Mexico.
Humans have been living in Mexico’s Yucatán Peninsula since at least the Late Pleistocene (126,000-11,700 years ago).
We also discovered much of the earliest Mexican settlers from nine well-preserved human skeletons found in the submerged caves and sinkholes near Tulum in Quintana Roo, Mexico.
Here, Stinnesbeck and colleagues describe a new, 30 percent-complete skeleton, ‘Chan Hol 3’, found in the Chan Hol underwater cave within the Tulum cave system.
The authors used a non-damaging dating method and took craniometric measurements, then compared her skull to 452 skulls from across North, Central, and South America as well as other skulls found in the Tulum caves.
The analysis showed Chan Hol 3 was likely a woman, approximately 30 years old at her time of death, and lived at least 9,900 years ago.
Her skull falls into a mesocephalic pattern (neither especially broad or narrow, with broad cheekbones and a flat forehead), like the three other skulls from the Tulum caves used for comparison; all Tulum cave skulls also had tooth caries, potentially indicating a higher-sugar diet.
This contrasts with most of the other known American crania in a similar age range, which tend to be long and narrow, and show worn teeth (suggesting hard foods in their diet) without cavities.
Though limited by the relative lack of archeological evidence for early settlers across the Americas, the authors suggest that these cranial patterns suggest the presence of at least two morphologically different human groups living separately in Mexico during this shift from the Pleistocene to the Holocene (our current epoch).
The authors add: “The Tulúm skeletons indicate that either more than one group of people reached the American continent first, or that there was enough time for a small group of early settlers who lived isolated on the Yucatán peninsula to develop a different skull morphology.
The early settlement history of America thus seems to be more complex and, moreover, to have occurred at an earlier time than previously assumed.”