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.”
Huge 300-Million-Year-Old Shark Skull Found Deep Inside An Underground Kentucky Cave
In the walls of a Kentucky cave, a fossilized shark’s head was found around 300 million years ago.
Scientists suggest that it was part of a striatus of Saivodus, which existed during the Late Mississippian geological age between 340 million and 330 million years ago.
It shows the skull, the lower jaws, cartilage and several teeth of the creature. The team believes that the size of the animal is similar to our modern Great White Shark.
The ancient shark head was uncovered in Mammoth Cave National Park, located in Kentucky, which is Earth’s oldest known cave system, the Louisville Courier-Journal reported.
It was first spotted in a treasure trove of fossils by Mammoth Cave specialists Rick Olson and Rick Toomey, who sent images of their findings to Vincent Santucci, the senior paleontologist for the National Park Service in Washington, D.C., for help with identifying the fossils.
But it was paleontologist John-Paul Hodnett who made the exciting discovery.
‘One set of photos showed a number of shark teeth associated with large sections of fossilized cartilage, suggesting there might be a shark skeleton preserved in the cave,’ he told the Journal.
The head was well-preserved in the cave and the team was able to make out the shark’s skull, lower jaw, cartilage, and numerous teeth. Based on these features, Hodnett believes the shark was about the size of a modern-day great white.
The Mammoth Cave National Park holds a trove of ancient fossil – more than 100 shark species have been discovered so far.
‘We’ve just scratched the surface,’ Hodnett said. ‘But already it’s showing that Mammoth Cave has a rich fossil shark record.’
A discovery such as this is very rare, as cartilage does not usually survive fossilization. However, shark teeth are commonly found, as they are made of bone and enamel, making them easy to preserve.
Hodnett said teeth and dorsal fins of other shark species are also exposed in the cave ceiling and walls.
‘We’ve just scratched the surface,’ Hodnett said. ‘But already it’s showing that Mammoth Cave has a rich fossil shark record.’
A separate exudation found teeth that they believed belonged to the largest prehistoric shark that lived over 2.5 million years ago. The discovery was made by divers in an inland sinkhole in central Mexico supporting anthropologists’ theories that the city of Maderia was once under the sea.
Fifteen dental fossils were found in total with thirteen of them believed to belong to three different species of shark, including a megalodon that existed over 2.5 million years ago.
According to the researchers involved, an initial exam of the thirteen shark dental fossils and their size and shape revealed that they might have belonged to the prehistoric and extinct species of megalodon shark (Carcharocles megalodon), the mackerel shark (Isurus oxyrinchus) and the saw shark, the last two of which are not extinct.
The fossils belong to the period of Pleiocene, the epoch in the geologic timescale that extended from 5 million to 2.5 million years ago, and the Miocene, an earlier geological epoch which extended between 23 and 5 million years ago.
Reports state the Xoc cenote is the largest in the city of Merida with a diameter of 2,034 feet and 91 feet deep.
A Civil War-era ‘witch bottle’ may have been found on a Virginia highway, archaeologists say
From the College of William & Mary archeologists discovered a remarkable piece of history.
At Redoubt 9, which is now known as exits 238 to 242 on I64 in York County, the team found a Jug of the Civil War era, which was thought to be a “witch bottle.” Witch bottles served as a kind of talisman to ward off evil spirits, the university says.
The excavation was carried out in association with Virginia Transportation Department in 2016 and was supervised by the former archeologist Chris Shepard of William & Mary Center for Archeological Research (WMCAR), who now works for VDOT.
Staff thought it looked like a bottle full of junk at first.
“It was this glass bottle full of nails, broken, but all there, near an old brick hearth,” said Joe Jones, director of WMCAR, told the college. “We thought it was unusual, but weren’t sure what it was.”
Jones said that the research center works frequently and closely with VDOT and noted that the standard arrangement is for their archaeological work to be scheduled well in advance of active roadwork. This particular dig took place before the planned interstate widening project.
William & Mary says Redoubt 9 was constructed by Confederates and occupied by Union troops after the Battle of Williamsburg in 1862.
Jones says the fortification was one of 14 mini-forts built along a line between the James and York Rivers to counter the threat of a Federal assault on Richmond via the Peninsula.
Jones explained that an afflicted person would bury the nail-filled bottle under or near their hearth with the idea that the heat from the hearth would energize the nails into breaking a witch’s spell.
Nearly 200 witch bottles have been documented in Great Britain, but less than a dozen have been found in the U.S, William & Mary says.
“It’s a good example of how a singular artifact can speak volumes,” Jones told W&M. “It’s really a time capsule representing the experience of Civil War troops, a window directly back into what these guys were going through occupying this fortification at this period in time.”
Archeologists in the Mexico City district of Azcapotzalco have discovered the base of the pre-Hispanic house and other building remnants of an ancient settlement.
In a declaration, the INAH confirmed that the finds in the historic center of the northern borough were part of the ancient altépetl, or city-state, of Mexicapan.
The city came into being when inhabitants of the Aztec or Mexica, capital of Tenochtitlán conquered the dominion of Azcapotzalco in 1428 and divided it into two autonomous settlements – Mexicapan and Tepanecapan.
The “domestic platform,” as INAH describes the foundations of the home, and the other structural remains are believed to have been part of a residential neighborhood within Mexicapan that was occupied by the city’s elite.
Measuring eight meters by six meters, the stone foundations of the pre-Hispanic house are among the largest ever found in Azcapotzalco, said INAH archaeologist Nancy Domínguez Rosas. The archaeological rescue team she heads also unearthed the remains of stone walls on the perimeter of the platform that measures between 50 and 70 centimeters.
The foundation is well preserved, Domínguez said, although the wall remains show signs of damage from more recent construction.
Archaeologists believe that the platform was built in two separate stages, the first of which corresponds to the late post-classic period between 1350 and 1519 AD. When the second phase of construction took place has not yet been determined.
Archaeologists found the platform while working alongside a municipal government team that was installing a tension fabric structure on Paseo de las Hormigas (Promenade of the Ants), which is part of the Azcapotzalco Park.
Domínguez said that 31 holes between one and two meters deep were dug for the slab foundations of the shade structure.
The structural remains of the Mexicapan neighborhood were discovered at a depth of 1.2 to two meters in front of the Azcapotzalco market, she said.
In addition to the domestic platform, archaeologists discovered the remains of other residential structures including one that measures 1.72 by 1.75 meters. All of the structures were made out of high-quality materials, leading archaeologists to conclude that they housed the elite and upper classes of Mexicapan society.
The archaeological rescue team has also discovered artifacts made out of both stone and bones.
Domínguez said the presence of the INAH team while the municipal employees are working in the area ensures that archaeological remains are not damaged, adding that archaeologists will continue to work to determine if there are any more pre-Hispanic structures in the area.
After they have been examined, the structures will be covered with geotextile, soil, and limestone to avoid their deterioration.
The discovery of such remains allows archaeologists “to recover information and contrast it with the information provided by historical sources,” Domínguez said, adding that the aim is to develop a greater understanding of “the way of life” of the residents of Mexicapan.
She also said that there is evidence that there were chinampas, or floating gardens, in the elite neighborhood and that human burials took place there.
The information . . . helps us to gradually reconstruct the puzzle of the urban configuration of Azcapotzalco in the pre-Hispanic era,” Domínguez said.
Haunting chalkboard drawings, frozen in time for 100 years, discovered in Oklahoma school
Sherry Read Math teacher Classroom is a total mess. The students are gone for the summer, and light fixtures dangle from the ceiling.
There is a dust layer on the floor. The worker’s rackets down the corridor during the refurbishment of the school, which dates back to the 1890s. They’re working in what has become an archaeological site.
Another discovery was made earlier this month by a construction crew from Oklahoma City School.
They found old chalkboards with class lessons that were written almost a century ago, and chalk drawings still in remarkably good condition. So Read doesn’t mind the mess. In fact, she’s amazed.
“It’s like touching history, like being a part of what was going on during the day,” she says. “It’s just remarkable and mysterious, trying to figure out what some of this was.”
The biggest mystery is an old multiplication wheel. It’s a circle with factors on the inside and other numbers on the outside. No one can figure it out.
But there’s no mystery about when the lessons were written. It was 1917, right after Thanksgiving. There is a turkey and pilgrim theme in every room.
One picture shows a little girl feeding a turkey. She’s in a pink and white knee-length dress and stockings; bright yellow curls frame her face. The picture is intricate, so detailed it must have been drawn by a teacher’s hand.
There’s also music and civics lessons, and rules for keeping clean. A vocabulary list highlights words like “blunder” and “choke” written in smooth cursive. Even the word “whoa” is listed because many people got around on horse and buggy back then.
Also on the board, a list of student names frozen in time.
“We’re not sure if that meant they were good students for the day, or they accomplished that,” Read says. “Or were their names up there because they were bad for the day?”
These snapshots are fragile. A simple, misplaced elbow can wipe them away. So school officials are now trying to figure out the best way to preserve these illuminating bits of the past.
Jeff Briley of the Oklahoma Historical Society says it’s important to secure the rooms by protecting chalkboards with acrylic glass and then controlling the temperature and light.
“They’re meant to be fleeting,” he says. “Chalk on a blackboard is not meant as a permanent media at all.”
He said everyone wants to preserve the blackboards, but they’re too fragile to move. So the old lessons may become part of the modern classrooms.
“If you make it secure, you make it to where there are no physical problems, you give it a stable environment, well then you’ll be good perhaps for another 100 years,” Briley says. Sherry Read says she gets a nice vibe from the chalkboards. She thinks the teachers of 1917 left the lessons for a reason.
“You would have cleaned off your board so you could be ready the next day to come back and teach,” she says. “So I think they left them on there on purpose to send a message to us, to say, ‘This is what was going on in our time.'”
Blackboard drawings are the fruit flies of art. They have short lifespans. That’s why the folks at Emerson High are scrambling. They want to preserve these snapshots from a century ago for future generations of Oklahoma students.