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FW: [hbe-l] Splendid Maya Palace Is Found Hidden in Jungle

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  • Popplestone, Ann
    ... From: Jesse S. Cook III [mailto:jesse_cook@JUNO.COM] Sent: Friday, September 08, 2000 2:35 PM To: ANTHRO-L@LISTSERV.ACSU.BUFFALO.EDU Subject: Fw: [hbe-l]
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      FW: [hbe-l] Splendid Maya Palace Is Found Hidden in Jungle

      -----Original Message-----
      From: Jesse S. Cook III [mailto:jesse_cook@...]
      Sent: Friday, September 08, 2000 2:35 PM
      To: ANTHRO-L@...
      Subject: Fw: [hbe-l] Splendid Maya Palace Is Found Hidden in Jungle


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      From: Premise Checker <checker@...>
      To: hbe-l@...
      Date: Fri, 8 Sep 2000 11:38:29 -0400 (EDT)

      September 8, 2000

      Splendid Maya Palace Is Found Hidden in Jungle

      By JOHN NOBLE WILFORD
      New York Times

           In a remote jungle of Guatemala, among the remains of a
           little-known ancient city with a name meaning Place of Serpents,
           archaeologists have uncovered one of the largest and most splendid
           palaces of Maya kings ever discovered. Its 170 high-ceiling rooms
           were built around 11 courtyards and spread over an area greater
           than two football fields.

           "No one has found anything like this since the turn of the last
           century," Dr. Arthur A. Demarest, an archaeologist at Vanderbilt
           University in Nashville and leader of the discovery team, said
           yesterday in describing the palace, which dates from the eighth
           century A.D. "What is most incredible about this site is that most
           of the palace is buried virtually intact."

           Dr. Demarest said that in size and preservation the palace, at
           Cancuén, rivaled the buildings at the central acropolis in Tikal,
           one of the grandest seats of Mayan power in Guatemala. Earlier
           expeditions had either overlooked or underestimated the size and
           grandeur of the palace and the city around it, a prosperous center
           of commerce and crafts at the head of navigation on the Pasión
           River.

           The discovery and the first excavations at Cancuén were made this
           summer by archaeologists led by Dr. Demarest and Dr. Tomás
           Barrientos of the Universidád del Valle in Guatemala. The
           expedition is sponsored by the Guatemalan Institute of Anthropology
           and History, the National Geographic Society and Vanderbilt.

           "It's an extraordinarily important find," said Dr. David Freidel, a
           Maya studies specialist at Southern Methodist University in Dallas,
           who has no connection to the work. "It's been a long time since a
           major palace complex has come to light. A scientific investigation
           of the ruins should help us understand political life in the late
           classic period of the Maya."

           The Maya civilization was at the peak of its power in Central
           America and Mexico from 250 to 900, known as the classic period.
           The king who completed the palace (inscriptions give his name as Tah
           ak Chaan) ruled Cancuén for about 50 years, beginning in 740.

           By this time, Dr. Freidel said, the focus of Mayan political life
           and state ceremony had shifted from the grand outdoor plazas to the
           palaces, which means that the buildings' art and architecture may
           reflect the changing relationships of powerful rulers, nobles and
           allies.

           Even a preliminary study of the site and its inscribed monuments
           has already produced one surprise: there is no evidence that the
           city's rulers engaged in any major wars with neighbors. Nor is
           there any sign of pyramids, the typically spectacular bases for
           temples and manifestations of the religious roots of a city's
           power.

           The absence of pyramid temples was the main reason previous
           archaeologists largely passed by the ruins and failed to
           investigate the true size of the palace.

           These discoveries alone may cause scholars to reconsider some of
           their ideas about the Maya civilization, Dr. Demarest said. Here
           was a city that appeared to prosper for hundreds of years without
           warfare or the usual display of religion as sources of the power of
           Maya kings, particularly toward the end of their dominance.

           "I have a book in press that I'll have to revise," Dr. Demarest
           remarked.

           Unlike other Maya cities, Cancuén appeared to use its strategic
           position at the foot of the highlands, a source of jade, obsidian
           and other valuable commodities, to become a commercial power
           throughout the lowlands. Dr. Demarest said the city must have been
           larger, richer and more powerful than anyone had expected. Its
           rulers appeared to have been single-mindedly dedicated to commerce.

           Some of the first excavations of residences disclosed that the city
           had a relatively wealthy middle class and many workshops for
           artisans producing elite goods for trade far and wide.

           Jade is everywhere at the site, Dr. Demarest said. A young middle-
           class woman was found in her grave with 10 jade-inlaid teeth.
           Workmen were buried with fine ceramic figurines with beautiful
           headdresses. At a workshop lay a 35-pound chunk of jade, which
           artisans had been slicing for pieces to manufacture ornaments.

           Other excavations turned up large amounts of pyrite, commonly known
           as fool's gold. Thin sheets of it were being used in making
           mirrors, one of the more prized possessions of the elite.

           All this might never have been uncovered if Dr. Demarest had not
           literally fallen into the discovery of the palace.

           After a decade of excavations at Dos Pilas and other sites in
           northern Guatemala, where he found ample evidence of a highly
           militaristic city-state called Petexbatún, Dr. Demarest decided
           last year to visit Cancuén to follow up a lead. Members of his team
           had found records of a marriage alliance between a Dos Pilas prince
           and a Cancuén princess. She then came to Dos Pilas to live in her
           own small palace.

           Seeing the architecture and crafts of Cancuén, Dr. Demarest said,
           "It looks as if the princess brought her own artisans, because the
           stonework on her palace is just like that at Cancuén and far
           superior to anything in the Petexbatún region."

           Then the archaeologists looked more closely at the ruins of what
           turned out to be the royal palace. "To the untrained eye, the
           palace looks just like a great, jungle-covered hill," Dr. Demarest
           said.

           While walking along the ruin's highest level, Dr. Demarest fell up
           to his armpits into vegetation filling one of the courtyards.
           "That's when I realized the entire hill was a three-story building
           and we were walking on top of the roof," he said.

           So far, archaeologists have only dug test holes into the palace
           ruins, enough to estimate the dimensions of the building. The walls
           are built of solid limestone. They enclose a densely packed
           labyrinth of rooms with 20-foot-high corbel-arched ceilings. The
           team's leaders estimate it will take at least 10 years to excavate
           and partly restore the palace.

           They are making plans to deploy a larger team of researchers and
           excavators at the site next February, at the end of the rainy
           season. The region is free of civil war now, Dr. Demarest said, but
           the government of Guatemala has little presence there, and it is
           still a virtually lawless place.

           Dr. Demarest said the expedition has mobilized and trained the
           people of the nearest village, El Zapote, to stand guard over the
           new-found palace.

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