Category Archives: NORTH AMERICA

Ancient Mayan pyramid destroyed in Belize by the construction company

Ancient Mayan pyramid destroyed in Belize by the construction company

A construction company in Belize destroyed one of the oldest and most famous Mayan pyramids while digging for crushed rock for a road they were constructing.

Authorities reported that the company was carrying out the work with bulldozers and backhoes, chipping away at the pyramid’s sides until there was barely anything left.

The Belize Institute of Archaeology’s director, Jaime Awe, said the building had been discovered the previous week. The ceremonial center at the Nohmul complex is thought to be at least 2,300 years old, and it is considered the most significant historical site in northern Belize, near the Mexican border.

The pyramid, which stood 65 feet tall, was built around 250 B.C. with hand-cut limestone bricks. The pyramid probably contained living quarters as well as tombs for local residents.
Ancient Mayan pyramid destroyed in Belize by the construction company
The limestone from which the pyramid is made is prized by local contractors for building and repairing.

“It’s a feeling of Incredible disbelief because of the ignorance and the insensitivity … they were using this for road fill,” Awe told AP. “It’s like being punched in the stomach, it’s just so horrendous.”

Nohmul is located in the middle of a privately owned sugar cane field and its structures lacked the tell-tale signs of a restored cultural site – like the evenly trimmed stone borders at the sides.

Yet, Awe said this could not possibly have been an explanation for how the workers had managed not to take note of what they were doing.

The pyramid is 100 feet (30 meters) tall, while the land around it is flat, so making that kind of mistake is difficult to imagine. 

“These guys knew that this was an ancient structure. It’s just bloody laziness”, Awe continued. “Just to realize that the ancient Maya acquired all this building material to erect these buildings, using nothing more than stone tools and quarried the stone, and carried this material on their heads, using tump lines,” he said. 

“To think that today we have modern equipment, that you can go and excavate in a quarry anywhere, but that this company would completely disregard that and completely destroyed this building.

Why can’t these people just go and quarry somewhere that has no cultural significance? It’s mind-boggling.”

An investigation is underway by Belizean police, with criminal charges looking like a possibility. Although the Nohmul complex is situated on private land, the law says that any ruins or monuments of pre-Hispanic origin are exempt from it and are under government protection.

A community organization calling itself the Citizens Organized for Liberty through Action has condemned the demolition of the site as “an obscene example of disrespect for the environment and history.”

Hundreds of Mayan ruins remain in Belize, which is largely covered with jungles and counts around 350,000 people among its population. Although this is not the first case that such lack of regard was employed in Belize, Nohmul is among the largest pyramids ruined by such activities.

Archeologists in the area are outraged and hope to salvage artifacts from the rubble.

Many scientists spoke out against what happened. Arlen Chase, chairman of the Department of Anthropology at the University of Central Florida, told AP that “Archaeologists are disturbed when such things occur, but there is only a very limited infrastructure in Belize that can be applied to cultural heritage management.”

The ’70s and 80’s saw much exploration take place around the Nohmul area, but it is important to understand that more knowledge could still be gained, as scientists say.

And such instances of lazy negligence and destruction of Mayan cultural heritage aren’t limited only to Belize. The remnants of the great Mayan nation are under threat in Mexico, Guatemala, and Honduras as well.   

Francisco Estrada-Belli, a professor of anthropology at Tulane University, said “I don’t think I am exaggerating if I say that every day a Maya mound is being destroyed for construction in one of the countries where the Maya lived.”

Archaeologists discover a secret Aztec tunnel built 600 years ago by emperor Moctezuma

Archaeologists discover a secret Aztec tunnel built 600 years ago by emperor Moctezuma

Archaeologists from the National Institute of Anthropology and History (INAH) discovered 11 pre-Hispanic images in a tunnel in Ecatepec, México’s state capital, that is part of a colonial dike system.

Petroglyphs and stucco relief panels were among the photos found on the sides of the 8.4-meter-long tunnel, according to INAH.

The tunnel is part of the Albarradón de Ecatepec, a four-kilometer-long 17th-century dike system.

Archaeologists discover a secret Aztec tunnel built 600 years ago by emperor Moctezuma
Archaeologists have unearthed a secret Aztec tunnel chamber that has been hiding under the bustling streets of Mexico City for more than 600 years

A war shield, the head of a bird of prey, and a “paper ornament” are among the images carved into the walls of the tunnels while a teocalli, or temple, is etched into the central stone of the arch entrance.

The temple is dedicated to the rain god Tláloc, the INAH archaeologists concluded.

Some of the images are still being studied to determine their exact nature and meaning.

Raúl García, coordinator of a project to preserve the archaeological treasures of the dike system, said that one hypothesis is that the images were made by indigenous people who lived in the pre-Hispanic towns of Ecatepec and Chiconautla. Residents of both towns worked on the construction of the dike, he said.

Adorned with carvings and paintings, the passageway that dates back to the 15th century is believed to have been built by Emperor Montezuma I and linked to the god of water and fertility – Tlaloc

The archaeologist explained that the tunnel where the images were discovered is in a section of the dike known as the Patio de Diligencias.

The glyphs and stucco panels, all of which have been damaged by hundreds of years of rain, will be covered for protection, García said.

The Albarradón de Ecatepec was declared a historical monument in 2001 and will soon be incorporated into a public park.

México state INAH director Antonio Huitrón said the opening of the park will allow people to enjoy the “cultural heritage to which they are heirs.”

The tunnel where the images were discovered will also be open to the public although the originals won’t be on display.

The site in which the wall was found is part of a more than decade long conservation project around la Calzada de San Cristobal

Aztecs were famous for their agriculture, introducing irrigation, draining swamps, creating artificial islands in the lakes and building intricate structures like

Huitrón said the stones featuring the petroglyphs and stucco panels will be removed and transferred to the Casa Morelos Community Center in Ecatepec. Stones with replicas of the images will be installed in their place, he explained.

Ecatepec, Mexico’s second most populous municipality, is located just north of Mexico City and is part of the Valley of Mexico metropolitan area.

In 1980, while cleaning out her garage, a woman found the hidden mummies

In 1980, while cleaning out her garage, a woman found the hidden mummies

In 1966, two California teenagers became fascinated with mummies and archaeology. They wanted to make a find for themselves and had heard that the prehistoric tribes of northern Mexico had a tradition of burying their dead in caves.

Near Sunny San Diego, the small area known as Lemon Grove is famous for its Giant Lemon, a sight to behold for all roadside novelty-seekers. Also, mummies. 

What do you do when your earnest search for a mummy actually yields one? What if it yields two? If you are the two teenage boys who managed to find this treasure trove of mummification, you panic and hide them in a garage. 

In 1966, two California boys went to Chihuahua, Mexico in search of mummies. Quite the mummy fanatics, they knew Indian tribes had once brought their dead to the cool, dry caves near Chihuahua, and considered the area prime hunting grounds for a mummy of their very own.

The mummies were found in a cave in Chihuahua, Mexico

For over a month they peeked into every nook and cranny of the caves, until their tenacity finally paid off—the boys not only found a coveted mummy, they found two.

The boys gazed at their prizes, the mummified remains of a teenage girl, as well as the tinier corpse of a one-year-old. Despite their determination to find them, they were now faced with the reality of having them.

They couldn’t exactly carry the bodies out of the country in backpacks, and the gravity of their mothers finding out began to become a very worrisome, previously overlooked issue. So the boys did what any secret-keeping teen would—they smuggled the bodies over the border, and convinced a friend to hide them in her garage. 

With no real endgame in sight the boys left their macabre finds in this safe location—safe that is until their friend’s mother decided that it was tie to do some spring cleaning. 14 years after being stashed away behind the garden tools and moving boxes, the girls were found.

The woman who found them was understandably shaken and naturally assumed that some sort of murder had taken place. Stolen mummies stashed there by neighbor kids isn’t exactly the first place the mind goes.

The police recognized immediately that the bodies were not likely to be murder victims, but could not figure out how the two ancient cadavers found their way into this suburban family garage—the teen is thought to have died between  A.D. 1040 and 1260. While they investigated, the mummies were delivered to the San Diego Museum of Man for safekeeping. 

Fondly nicknamed “The Lemon Grove Girl”, the teenage mummy and her infant companion were stashed away until rightful ownership could be sorted.

Eventually the police caught up with the boys, who were now grown men of course, and asked for an explanation. The men told their story, and in an ever so generous act of contrition offered to donate their mummies to the Museum of Man. 

The officials, eyes rolling, informed the men that due to their juvenile status when the crime was committed and the time that had passed, they were lucky that no charges would be pressed, and thanked them for the charitable offer, but the mummies were not theirs to give.

The museum however was very keen on becoming the keeper of the girls, and after being granted permission by the Mexican government to retain them, including the Lemon Grove Girl in their gorgeous Ancient Egypt and Mummies exhibit. 

Mississippi Repatriates Native American Remains and Artifacts

Mississippi Repatriates Native American Remains and Artifacts

The Associated Press reports that the Mississippi Department of Archives and History will hand over more than 400 sets of human remains and 83 artefacts in its collections to The Chickasaw Nation under the federal Native American Graves Protection and Repatriation Act (NAGPRA).

The William F. Winter Archives and History Building in Jackson, Mississippi

A man and a woman were found buried among wolf teeth and turtle shells. Other graves contained mothers and infants. Some tribal members were laid to rest with beloved dogs. Over the past century, the Mississippi Department of Archives and History has stored the remains of hundreds of Native Americans who once inhabited the state.

Most of the remains were found in the Mississippi Delta and range from 750 to 1,800 years old. For decades, they sat on shelves in the state’s collections.

Now, the remains of 403 Chickasaw ancestors along with various artefacts have been returned to their people to be laid to rest on Mississippi soil.

The initiative is the largest of its kind conducted by the state of Mississippi since the passage three decades ago of the federal Native American Graves Protection and Repatriation Act. Since 1990, the law has required that institutions like museums and schools that receive federal funding return human remains, funerary objects and other sacred items to their Native American, Alaska Native and Native Hawaiian descendants.

“We see the repatriation process as an act of love,” said Amber Hood, director of historic preservation and repatriation for The Chickasaw Nation. “These are our grandmothers, grandfathers, aunts, uncles and cousins from long ago.”

Around 83,000 ancestral native remains in the United States had been returned to descendants as of last fall, according to National Park Service data. But at least another 116,000 still are waiting to be returned.

Anne Amati, NAGPRA coordinator with the University of Denver Museum of Anthropology, said institutions in the southeastern United States have more remains than anywhere else in the country.

Volunteers hand-sewed unbleached muslin collection bags that are being used for holding several hundred Chickasaw ancestors and artefacts that soon will be returned to native hands.

Dozens of tribes, including the Chickasaw, Choctaw and Cherokee, once lived across millions of acres throughout the Southeast until forcibly and violently removed by the U.S. government following the Indian Removal Act of the 1830s.

After the Great Depression, thousands of graves were disrupted by the Tennessee Valley Authority as workers built reservoirs. Nearly 11,500 remains from Tennessee have now been returned to descendants, but 21,200 remain. More than 18,600 in Alabama have been returned, but there are still about 10,650 more.

In some instances, shell beads, stone tools, celts and vessels found in burial sites across the nation have been put on exhibit in museums.

Many remains in Mississippi were discovered by Delta farmers developing land from the 1950s to 1970s.

Meg Cook, the Mississippi agency’s director of archaeology, said the state has an ethical as well as a legal responsibility to return remains.

“We’re doing everything that we can to reconcile the past and move forward in a very transparent way,” Cook said. “It’s our responsibility to tell the Mississippi story. And that means all of the bad parts, too.”

There are more than 1,000 remains still to be identified and returned to tribes in Mississippi.

The Chickasaw Nation told Mississippi officials they wanted remains and objects from their ancestors to be transported in muslin bags, which will decompose when reburied. Volunteers were recruited during the pandemic shutdown to hand-sew the bags at home.

Mississippi Repatriates Native American Remains and Artifacts
Volunteers sewed these muslin bags, which were used to transport the remains of 403 Native Americans back to the Chickasaw Nation.

“Volunteers knew they were helping in some ways to bring these people home, to put them to rest,” Cook said.

Trapped In A Fossil: Remnants Of A 46-Million-Year-Old Meal

Trapped In A Fossil: Remnants Of A 46-Million-Year-Old Meal

A mosquito plunged its proboscis into an animal, perhaps a bird or a mammal, and filled up on a blood meal around 46 million years ago. Then its luck turned for the worse, as it fell into a lake and sunk to the bottom.

Normally this wouldn’t be newsworthy, and nobody would likely know or care about a long-dead insect in what is now northwest Montana.

But somehow, the mosquito didn’t immediately decompose — a fortuitous turn of events for modern-day scientists — and became fossilized over the course of many years, said Dale Greenwalt, a researcher at the National Museum of Natural History in Washington, D.C. Greenwalt discovered the mosquito fossil after it was given to the museum as a gift, and he immediately realized the specimen’s rarity.

Trapped In A Fossil: Remnants Of A 46-Million-Year-Old Meal
A very old squished mosquito found in fossilized rock from Montana. Analysis of the insect’s gut revealed telltale chemicals found in the blood.

It is, in fact, the only blood-engorged mosquito fossil found, Greenwalt told LiveScience.

The fossil is even stranger because it comes from shale, a type of rock formed from sediments deposited at the bottom of bodies of water, as opposed to amber, the age-old remains of dried tree sap, in which insect remnants are generally better preserved. 

“The chances that such an insect would be preserved in shale is almost infinitesimally small,” Greenwalt said.

In their study, Greenwalt and his collaborators bombarded the mosquito fossil with molecules of bismuth, a heavy metal, which vaporizes chemicals found in the fossil.

Fossil mosquitoes collected by Dale Greenwalt, a volunteer research collaborator at the Smithsonian National Museum of Natural History. The fossils were collected as part of a 5-year project to produce a research collection of fossil insects from the Kishenehn Formation.

These airborne chemicals are then analyzed by a mass spectrometer, a machine that can identify chemicals based on their atomic weights, Greenwalt said.

The beauty of this technique, called time-of-flight secondary ion mass spectrometry, is that it doesn’t destroy the sample — previously, similar techniques required grinding up portions of fossils, he added.

The analysis revealed hidden porphyrins, organic compounds found in hemoglobin, the oxygen-carrying protein in the blood, hidden in the fossilized mosquito’s abdomen.

The finding may bring to mind the story of “Jurassic Park,” a novel and movie in which scientists resurrect dinosaurs from DNA preserved in blood-engorged mosquitoes preserved in amber.

Although this finding doesn’t really make this fictitious story any more likely, it does show that complex organic molecules besides DNA can be preserved for a long time, Greenwalt said.

The discovery also shows that “blood-filled mosquitoes were already feeding at that time, suggesting that they were around much earlier and could have fed on dinosaurs,” said George Poinar, a paleo-entomologist at Oregon State University, who wasn’t involved in the research.

Greenwalt said he had no way of knowing exactly how the mosquito was preserved so well. Perhaps the most likely hypothesis is that the insect was trapped in a covering of water-suspended algae, which are capable of coating specimens in a sticky, gluelike material, before sinking to the bottom; this algae process has been shown to fossilize other types of insects, he said.

Researchers don’t know what kind of animal the blood came from since hemoglobin-derived porphyrins amongst different animals appear to be identical, Greenwalt said.

The study is exciting because it provides more evidence that porphyrins, organic compounds found in “virtually all living organisms from microbes to humans in varying amounts” are “extremely stable” — and are thus a perfect target for studying long-dead plants and animals, said Mary Schweitzer, a researcher at the North Carolina Museum of Natural Sciences, who wasn’t involved in the study. 

Fossil of 67 million-year-old Raptor Dinosaur Found in New Mexico

Fossil of 67 million-year-old Raptor Dinosaur Found in New Mexico

Experts have discovered dinosaur fossils of what they believe is one of the last remaining species of raptors, a 67-million-year-old known as Dineobellator notohesperus.

The new species of dromaeosaurid — a species of “generally small to medium-sized feathered carnivores” —was discovered in the San Juan Basin, New Mexico, according to a study published in Scientific Reports. D. notohesperus lived during the Cretaceous period, which ended 66 million years ago.

The study’s authors noted a “number of unique features, including vertebrae near the base of the tail that curved inwards, which could have increased Dineobellator’s agility and improved its predation success,” according to a press release.

Illustration of three Dineobellator near a water source, with the ceratopsid Ojoceratops and sauropod alamosaurus in the background.

There is also a gouge mark on the fossil’s sickle-shaped claw, that the researchers believe could have been “inflicted during an altercation with another Dineobellator or other theropod such as Tyrannosaurus rex.”

Phylogenetic analysis of the dinosaur suggests it could be part of the Velociraptorinae subfamily, which also includes velociraptors, famous for their appearance in the “Jurassic Park” movies.

Though small in stature, at approximately 7 feet in length, this carnivorous dinosaur had huge claws and a tail that was flexible at its base, allowing it to increase agility and change direction, according to the study’s lead author, Steve Jasinski.

“Think of what happens with a cat’s tail as it is running,” said Jasinski in a release from the University of Pennsylvania. “While the tail itself remains straight, it is also whipping around constantly as the animal is changing direction.

A stiff tail that is highly mobile at its base allows for increased agility and changes in direction and potentially aided Dineobellator in pursuing prey, especially in more open habitats.”

Dinosaurs were wiped out 65 million years ago by an asteroid that hit Earth in what is now the Yucatan Peninsula in Mexico. It not only wiped out the dinosaurs but also killed nearly 75 per cent of all species on the planet.

It may have also acidified Earth’s oceans after its impact, according to a study published in October 2019.

Another study published in September 2019 compared the impact of the asteroid to the power of 10 billion atomic bombs.

Researchers have uncovered several new species of dinosaurs in recent memory, including the world’s smallest dinosaur, a two-inch bird-like creature.

In early March, researchers published a study that suggested they have found traces of DNA inside a fossilized dinosaur skull.

14,000-year-old ice age village discovered is 10,000 years older than the pyramids

14,000-year-old ice age village discovered is 10,000 years older than the pyramids

In their oral history, the Heiltsuk people describe how the area around Triquet Island, on the western coast of their territory in British Columbia, remained open land during the ice age.

“People flocked there for survival because everywhere else was being covered by ice, and all the ocean was freezing and all of the food resources were dwindling,” says Heiltsuk Nation member William Housty.

And late last year, archaeologists excavating an ancient Heiltsuk village on Triquet Island uncovered the physical evidence: a few flakes of charcoal from a long-ago hearth.

Analysis of the carbon fragments indicates that the village site — deserted since a smallpox epidemic in the 1800s — was inhabited as many as 14,000 years ago, making it three times as old as the pyramids at Giza, and one of the oldest settlements in North America.

“There are several sites that date to around the same time as the very early date that we obtained for Triquet Island, so what this is suggesting is that people have been here for tens of thousands of years,” says Alisha Gauvreau, a scholar at the Hakai Institute and a PhD candidate at the University of Victoria, who has been working at the Triquet Island site.

But how was it that Triquet Island remained uncovered, even during the ice age? According to Gauvreau, sea levels in the area remained stable over time, due to a phenomenon called sea level hinge.

“So all the rest of the landmass was covered in ice,” she explains. “As those ice sheets started to recede — and we had some major shifts in sea levels coastwide, so further to the north and to the south in the magnitude of 150 to 200 meters of difference, whereas here it remained exactly the same.”

The result, Gauvreau says, is that people were able to return to Triquet Island repeatedly over time. And while nearby sites also show evidence of ancient inhabitants, people “were definitely sticking around Triquet Island longer than anywhere else,” she says. In addition to finding bits of charcoal at the site, she says archaeologists have uncovered tools like obsidian blades, atlatls and spear throwers, fishhook fragments and hand drills for starting fires.

“And I could go on, but basically, all of these things, coupled with the fallen assemblage, tell us that the earliest people were making relatively simple stone tools at first, perhaps expediently, due to the parent material that was available at the time,” Gauvreau says.

The site also indicates that these early people were also using boats to hunt sea mammals, and gather shellfish, she adds. And later on, they traded or travelled great distances to obtain nonlocal materials like obsidian, greenstone and graphite for tools.

For archaeologists and anthropologists, the find bolsters an idea, called the “Kelp Highway Hypothesis” hypothesis, proposing that the first people who arrived in North America followed the coastline in boats to avoid the glacial landscape.

“It certainly adds evidence to the fact that people were able to travel by boat in that coastal area by watercraft,” Gauvreau says.

And for the Heiltsuk Nation, which has worked with the archaeologists for years to share knowledge and identify sites like Triquet Island, the updated archaeological record provides new evidence, as well. The nation routinely negotiates with the Canadian government on matters of territory governance and natural resource management — negotiations that depend in part on the community’s record of inhabiting the area over long periods.

Archaeologists at the site are unearthing tools for lighting fires, fish hooks and spears dating back to the Ice Age

“So when we’re at the table with our oral history, it’s like me telling you a story,” Housty says. “And you have to believe me without seeing any evidence.”

But now, he explains, with the oral history and archaeological evidence “dovetailing together, telling a really powerful tale,” the Heiltsuk have new advantages at the negotiating table.

“That’s really going to be very significant … and I think will definitely give us a leg up in negotiations, for sure,” he says.

Archaeology breakthrough: Second ‘hidden pyramid’ discovered inside iconic Mayan structure

Archaeology breakthrough: Second ‘hidden pyramid’ discovered inside iconic Mayan structure

Archaeologists have confirmed that the massive Kukulkan pyramid in eastern Mexico – one of the most iconic pyramids in the world – was built like a Russian nesting doll, with the discovery of two smaller pyramids hidden within its walls.

The first of the hidden pyramids was discovered back in the 1930s, built within the walls of the colossal Kukulkan tomb. Now an even smaller pyramid has been found inside that one – and the discoveries might not stop there. 

“To make matters more complicated, the third Russian doll moving in may actually be one of a set of several small dolls rattling around inside the same shell.

Ancient Mayan pyramid in Chichen Itza

We just do not know,” anthropologist Geoffrey Braswell from the University of California, San Diego, who was not involved in the study, told The Associated Press. Built sometime between the 9th and 12th centuries, the Kukulkan pyramid is the centrepiece of the vast Chichen Itza complex in the Mexican state of Yucatán. 

Also known as El Castillo (meaning “the castle”), this colossal pyramid features 364 steps – one for every day of the year in the Maya calendar system – and stands 24 metres (79 feet) tall. A 6-metre-high (20-foot) temple sits on top of the pyramid and was dedicated to the featured serpent god, Kukulkan.

Back in 1931, archaeologists began investigating the insides of the pyramid, with suspicions that it could be hiding the remains of a much older version – something that was widely disbelieved at the time.

Over the course of the next five years, they discovered a room nicknamed the hall of offerings, containing a giant Chacmool statue, its nails, teeth, and eyes inlaid with mother of pearl.

They also found a room called the chamber of sacrifices, containing two carefully arranged rows of human bones, and an elaborate red jaguar statue, encrusted with 74 jade inlays for spots, and jade-studded eyes.

The researchers soon realised that there was a larger, much older pyramid hidden below and inside the Kukulkan pyramid, and it stands roughly 33 metres tall (108 feet).

Now, archaeologists have completed their latest investigation of that internal pyramid using a non-invasive imaging technique called tri-dimensional electric resistivity tomography, and report the discovery of a 10-metre-tall (33-foot) pyramid hidden inside the larger two.

At this stage, it’s not clear if this the same structure archaeologists detected back in the 1940s but couldn’t confirm – or something else entirely.

Oddly enough, it appears to have been built above a water-filled sinkhole called a cenote, which researchers detected under the Kukulkan pyramid just last year. 

It’s not clear if the Maya knew of the cenote themselves, but the fact that the pyramids were built directly on top of it, and that Kukulkan was a god of water (among other things), suggests that maybe they did.

“The structure that we have found, the new structure, is not completely in the centre of the Kukulkan pyramid. It is in the direction where the cenote is,” Rene Chavez Segura, from the National Autonomous University of Mexico, told CNN.

“This could either confirm or hypothesise that the Mayans when they built this structure that they knew of the existence of this cenote.”

According to Segura and his team, the smallest pyramid was likely built between 550 and 800 AD. The middle structure has between 800 and 1000 AD, while the outer one was finished between 1050 and 1300 AD.

The researchers are yet to publish their findings, so these dates and the pyramid’s structure will still need to be verified by independent teams, but it’s hoped that further investigations will continue, so we can figure out if there are even more pyramids hidden inside.

“If this could be investigated in the future, this structure would be significant, because it would speak to the first few periods of habitation of the site and would provide information about how the settlement developed,” Denisse Argote from Mexico’s National Institute of Anthropology and History told CNN.