Category Archives: NORTH AMERICA

Underwater Artifacts Returned to Mexico’s Lake of the Moon

Underwater Artifacts Returned to Mexico’s Lake of the Moon

A collection of objects preserved in a special container at the bottom of Lake of The Moon at high altitudes in the Nevado de Toluca Volcano in Central Mexico was deposited by Mexico’s National Institute for Anthropology and History (INAH).

Underwater archaeologist Roberto Junco deposits the archive on the bottom of the Lake of the Moon.

The artifacts were found in the lake in 2007 and kept in the last 13 years during the research under similar underwater environments.

52 pre-Hispanic ritual items returned to their site by underwater archaeologists where they were found, the bed of one of the two crater lakes of the Nevado de Toluca volcano.

Members of the underwater archaeology team at the National Institute of Anthropology and History (INAH) deposited the mostly spherical and conical resin objects on the bed of the Lake of the Moon earlier this month.

The objects, believed to have been made by the Matlatzinca people between the 13th and 15th centuries and placed in the lake by pre-Hispanic priests, are stored in a specially-made container that allows water and sediment to flow over them. As a result, they are protected from deterioration.

The trove of objects is the first in situ underwater archaeological archive in Mexico, according to an INAH statement.

The decision to preserve the objects in their place of origin complies with recommendations in the 2001 UNESCO Convention on the Protection of the Underwater Cultural Heritage.

The objects were found at the Nevado de Toluca crater lake in 2007 and have been studied and analyzed for the past 13 years.

Enna Llabrés and Roberto Junco prepare the collection of artifacts for a deposit on the lake bottom.

Enna Llabrés Torres, a researcher with the INAH underwater archaeology department who made the container in which the resin relics are stored, said that the objects could be removed for further study in the future as new technologies and methods of analysis emerge.

She explained that while the objects were studied over the past 13 years, they were stored underwater in conditions similar to those found at the Lake of the Moon, which is located more than 4,000 meters above sea level and has an average temperature of 3 C.

The conical objects measure 20-30 centimeters while the spherical ones are roughly the size of a baseball. INAH archaeologist Iris Hernández said that the Nevado de Toluca volcano has been considered a sacred site since pre-Hispanic times and for that reason, relics used in rituals and ceremonies have been found there.

She said that the conical objects – made out of resin of the copal tree – may have been specifically made to resemble the form of the volcano, located in modern-day México state.

According to carbon dating tests conducted by experts at the National Autonomous University Institute of Physics, the ritual objects date back to between 1216 and 1445 AD.

The time period corresponds to the rule of the Matlatzinca people in the Valley of Toluca prior to their domination by the Mexicas.

The life and death of one of America’s most mysterious trees

The life and death of one of America’s most mysterious trees

In the Centre of Chaco Canyon in New Mexico, a towering ponderous tree, known as the “Plaza Tree,” was once built to be a symbol of life and a center of the world for an ancient pueblo town. But new research suggests it may have been just a giant log no one bothered to move for 800 years, and maybe didn’t hold significant meaning. 

The “Plaza Tree of Pueblo Bonito” was thought to be a living “world tree” for ancestral Puebloans. But researchers have found that it grew 50 miles away and was dead when it was hauled there.

“I believe the tree was dead when it had been taken into the canyon,” said Chris Guiterman, a research assistant scientist studying ancient trees at the Tucson University of Arizona.

For over a hundred years, people assumed the tree had meaning; it was regarded as a “tree of life”, according to one researcher, or a “world tree.” The solitary tree was once thought to represent the living “center of the world” for the people of Pueblo Bonito, the largest of Chaco Canyon’s “great houses,” which was occupied between A.D. 850 and 1150.

Some speculations placed the tree at the center of a religious cult, and an illustration of a growing “Plaza Tree of Pueblo Bonito” appears in a brochure from the National Park Service.

Guiterman and his colleagues discovered that the Plaza Tree probably didn’t grow at Chaco Canyon, but more than 50 miles (80 kilometers) away. They also found no evidence that the tree had a religious role — it might have been a pole, or a beam for a house, or firewood.

“I actually have no idea whether it did, does, or ever had religious significance,” Guiterman told Live Science in an email. “I don’t know what it was used for, or why it was located in the plaza where it was found.”

Pueblo Bonito is the largest of the adobe “great houses” in Chaco Canyon. It was occupied between 850 and 1158 AD and is considered the center of the Chaco world.

“Tree of life”

The researchers studied three aspects of the Plaza Tree: documents about the discovery of its 20 foot (6 meters) long trunk in Pueblo Bonito in 1924; the levels of isotopes of the chemical element strontium within samples of its wood, which can identify where it came from; and the width of its tree rings, which can show seasonal growth.

Ideally, the tree rings would have been compared to rings from trees of the same age, wrote the researchers in the study, published online March 13 in the journal American Antiquity — but that wasn’t possible, so they used the rings in modern trees to determine distinctive growth patterns based on the climate of particular areas.

The researchers found that the tree ring width and the strontium isotopes of the Plaza Tree didn’t match those of ponderosa pine trees that grew around Chaco Canyon — instead, they closely matched trees that grew in the Chuska Mountains, about 50 miles (80 kilometers) west.

The Chuska Mountains region “also happens to be the primary source for architectural wood used to construct Pueblo Bonito and other Chaco great houses,” Guiterman said.

The researchers determined that archaeologist Neil Judd of the Smithsonian Institution, who excavated Pueblo Bonito in the 1920s, failed to find any sign of deep roots from the tree in the plaza where it was found, and initially dismissed the idea that it had been growing there.

But Judd’s dismissal seems to have been overlooked in his following interpretation in the 1950s when he described the Plaza Tree as the last living remnant of an ancient forest that once existed at Chaco Canyon.

The researchers studied the width of the ancient tree rings and their levels of isotopes of strontium in the wood of the Plaza Tree to determine how old it was and where it came from.

Ancient pueblos

Recent research has shown that logs were often hauled for dozens of miles to build the pueblos at Chaco Canyon, Guiterman said: “hundreds of thousands of timbers were used in the construction of [the] great house structures.”

The Plaza Tree is one of only two logs found in an ancestral Puebloan structure that were not parts of buildings. The other is a 32 foot (10 m) long log of white fir at the Kiet Siel cliff dwelling in Arizona, discovered in the 1890s. That unexpected find may have prompted Judd’s more elaborate interpretation of the Plaza Tree, Guiterman said.

“It was a puzzling discovery — one of a kind, really,” he said. “It served as evidence for an early idea that Chaco Canyon was heavily forested before the great houses were constructed, and that the hundreds of thousands of beams came from that local forest.”

The researchers looked again at several theories surrounding the Plaza Tree, including that it served as a gnomon — the upright that casts a shadow — of an ancient sundial. “Although we cannot confirm that [the Plaza Tree] was actually long enough to be a gnomon, it is certainly possible,” they wrote.

The tree may also have served as an upright pole in ceremonies and festivals, such as the pole-climbing that features in some Native American festivals and which may have originated in ancient Mesoamerica, the researchers wrote. The branches and logs of pine trees are used in some Puebloan ceremonies today. 

But the Plaza Tree also could have had a much more mundane use. “It might have been a log staged for construction of a new room, or to replace a damaged beam in an existing room,” they wrote. “It could have been a bench, or intended for fuelwood [firewood].”

Gold bar found beneath Mexico City street was part of Moctezuma’s treasure

Gold bar found beneath Mexico City street was part of Moctezuma’s treasure

A recent scientific study of a large gold bar discovered in the city center of Mexico City decades ago shows that it was part of the plunder Spanish conquerors tried to carry away as they fled the Aztec capital after native warriors forced a hasty retreat.

A couple of months before the 500th anniversary of the battle that forced Hernan Cortes and his soldiers to flee the city briefly on 30 June 1520, the Mexico National Institute of Anthropology and History (INAH) announced the results of further testing of the bar

A day earlier, Aztec Emperor Moctezuma was killed or possibly assassinated, according to the native informants of one Spanish chronicler, which promoted a frenzied battle that forced Cortes, his fellow Spaniards as well as their native allies to flee for their lives.

A year later, Cortes would return and lay siege to the city, which was already weakened with supply lines cut and diseases introduced by the Spanish invaders taking a toll.

The bar was originally discovered in 1981 during a construction project some 16 feet (5 meters) underground in downtown Mexico City – which was built on the ruins of the Aztec capital Tenochtitlan – where a canal that would have been used by the fleeing Spaniards was once located.

An x-ray detector scans a large gold bar found decades ago in downtown Mexico City, part of the plunder Spanish conquerors fleeing the Aztec capital after native warriors forced a hasty retreat, is seen in this handout photograph released to Reuters by the National Institute of Anthropology and History

The bar weighs about 2 kg (4.4 lb) and is 26.2 cm (10.3 inches) long, 5.4 cm (2.1 inches) wide and 1.4 cm (half an inch) thick.

A fluorescent X-ray chemical analysis was able to pinpoint its creation to between 1519-1520, according to INAH, which coincides with the time Cortes ordered gold objects stolen from an Aztec treasury to be melted down into bars for easier transport to Europe.

Historical accounts describe Cortes and his men as heavily weighed down by the gold they hoped to take with them as they fled the imperial capital during what is known today as the “Sad Night,” or “Noche Triste,” in Spanish.

“The golden bar is a unique historical testimony to a transcendent moment in world history,” said archeologist Leonardo Lopez Lujan, who leads excavations at a nearby dig where the Aztecs’ holiest shrine once stood.

Until the recent tests, scholars of the last gasps of the Aztec empire only had historical documents to rely on as confirmed sources, added Lopez Lujan.

A more in-depth and technical description of the tests performed on the bar is published in magazine Arqueologia Mexicana.

Archaeologists in Mexico Discover Treasure of Mayan Civilization and Giant Sloth Fossils in a Vast Underwater Cave

Archaeologists in Mexico Discover Treasure of Mayan Civilization and Giant Sloth Fossils in a Vast Underwater Cave

This undated photo released by Mexico’s National Anthropology and History Institute shows divers from the Great Mayan Aquifer project (L) exploring the Sac Actun underwater cave system, where Mayan and Pleistocene bones and cultural artefacts have been found submerged, near Tulum, Mexico.

Following 10 months of intensive exploration, Mexican scientists discovered the largest flooded cave system – and it’s truly an underwater wonderland.

This sprawling, sunken labyrinth, stretching an astounding 347 km (216 miles) of subterranean caverns, is not only a stunning marvel but also a significant archaeological find that can uncover the forgotten mysteries of the ancient Mayan civilization.

“This enormous cave is the world’s leading archaeological submerged site,” said Guillermo de Anda, an underwater archaeologist at the National Institute of Anthropology and History of Mexico.

The largest underwater cave in the world was discovered in Mexico by explorers from the Gran Acuífero Maya.

“There are more than 100 archaeological contexts, among which are evidence of the first settlers of America, as well as extinct fauna and, of course, the Maya culture.”

De Anda heads up the Great Maya Aquifer Project (GAM), a research effort which for decades has explored underwater caves in the Mexican state of Quintana Roo, located on the Caribbean coastline of the Yucatán Peninsula.

The region hosts a stunning 358 submerged cave systems, representing some 1,400 kilometres (870 miles) of flooded freshwater tunnels hidden under the surface.

A diver from the Great Mayan Aquifer project looking at human remains believed to be from the Pleistocene era, in the Sac Actun underwater cave system, near Tulum, Mexico.

Amongst this sprawling network, a new leader emerged last week. Called the Sac Actun System, this gargantuan passage is so big it was actually thought to be two different cave systems.

Before now, another system called Dos Ojos (‘two eyes’) spanning 93 kilometres (57.8 miles) was thought to be distinct from Sac Actun, but an exhaustive 10 months of underwater probing proved the two were actually one giant continuous cavity.

“We came really close a few times. On a couple of occasions, we were a metre from making a connection between the two large cave systems,” GAM exploration director Robert Schmittner told Mexican newspaper, El Pais.

“It was like trying to follow the veins within a body. It was a labyrinth of paths that sometimes came together and sometimes separated. We had to be very careful.”

That effort paid off, and under the rules of caving, Sac Actun now absorbs Dos Ojos (and its former length), meaning at 347 kilometres long Sac Actun is now the world’s largest known underwater cave – beating out the former frontrunner, the Ox Bel Ha System, also in Quintana Roo, which stretches for 270 kilometres.

But the search isn’t over yet. Sac Actun stands to grow even larger, with the researchers saying it could be connected to three other underwater cave systems – provided further dives can show the caverns do indeed link up.

Photos by: Gran Acuifero Maya
A Mask of the Mayan god of trade in the Gran aquifer of Sac Actun in Quinta Roo state, Mexico.

Those dives won’t just shed light on how deep the fish hole goes, either.

As footage in the researchers’ video and photos show – untold volumes of preserved Maya artefacts and human remains are just waiting to be discovered and analysed from within this unprecedented cave system.

Ultimately, the scientific implications could be just as massive as the cave itself.

“We’ve recorded more than 100 archaeological elements: the remains of extinct fauna, early humans, Maya archaeology, ceramics, and Maya graves,” de Anda told the Mexican media.

“It’s a tunnel of time that transports you to a place 10,000 to 12,000 years ago.”