The University of Cincinnati’s mastery of ancient Maya mysteries continues with new research from professor of biological sciences David Lentz.
UC faculty have been involved in multiple research projects concerning ancient Maya culture for more than a decade. This latest Maya study from Lentz focuses on Cerén, a farming village that was smothered under several meters of volcanic ash in the late sixth century.
Lentz will present his research, “The Lost World of the Zapotitan Valley: Cerén and its Paleoecological Context,” at the 78th annual meeting of the Society for American Archaeology, held April 3-7 in Honolulu. More than 3,000 scientists from around the world attend the event to learn about research covering a broad range of topics and time periods.
THE SCIENTIFIC GIFTS OF VOLCANIC CATACLYSM
Cerén, now a UNESCO World Heritage Site known as Joya de Cerén, was discovered in El Salvador in the late 1970s when a governmental construction project unearthed what turned out to be ancient ceramic pottery and other clay structures. The initial archaeological excavation was directed by Payson Sheets, a faculty member at the University of Colorado and a friend of Lentz.
Cerén is sometimes called “the Pompeii of Central America,” and much like that doomed ancient Roman city, the wreckage of Cerén was remarkably well preserved by its volcanic burial shroud. So that bad news for the Cerén villagers became good news for archaeologists centuries later.
“What this meant for me, is this site had all these plant remains lying on the ground,” Lentz says. “Not only do we find these plant remains well preserved, but we find them where the people left them more than a thousand years ago, and that is really extraordinary.”
Lentz specializes in paleoethnobotany and oftentimes in his work – including at other Maya sites – he’s left to interpret complex meaning from splinters of charred wood and hard nut fragments. The Mayas’ tropical environment, which isn’t conducive to preserving plant remains, doesn’t make things any easier.
But the situation was different at Cerén. The village’s sudden and complete ruin sealed it under layers of preservative ash. So Lentz’s research there is still challenging but in an unfamiliar way.
“It was tricky because we kept encountering things we’d never encountered before at a Maya site,” Lentz says. “They were just invisible because of the lack of preservation.”
GARDENS, CROPS AND OTHER SURPRISES
A few examples of what Lentz and his team have discovered at Cerén:
- They found tremendous quantities of a root crop (malanga, a relative of taro) that previously had not been associated with Maya agriculture. They found another “invisible” crop of manioc alongside the more anticipated fields of maize, and they found grasses no longer in existence on the modern-day El Salvador landscape.
- They made what is thought to be the first discovery of a Maya kitchen, complete with intensively planted household garden. “We could tell what was planted around the houses,” Lentz says. “This is fabulous because people have long debated how the Maya did all this. Now we have a real example.”
- They found a household with more than 70 ceramic pots, many used to store beans, peppers and other plant matter. Having that many vessels in one home was an unusual discovery for what is thought to be a small, farming village. Lentz likened it to having four or five sets of China in a typical American home.
- They found large plots of neatly rowed land, evidence of ridge and furrow agriculture. Lentz also posits that the people of Cerén surrounded their homes with orchard trees. These discoveries seemingly debunk the common theory that the Maya employed a slash-and-burn agriculture method.
- They found a raised, paved pathway called a “sacbe,” which was used by the Maya for ceremonial and commercial purposes. Lentz plans additional research on the sacbe to see what other significant discoveries could be made by following the path.
LEARNING FROM ANCIENT LANDSCAPES
From these new discoveries come many lessons, a lot of them ecological. Lentz has studied how the Mayas effectively implemented systems of agriculture and arboriculture. He is intrigued by what made these methods successful, considering the Maya population was much denser than what exists on the modern landscape.
His findings at Cerén give him new pieces to plug into the Maya puzzle. Furthermore, they help us understand how humankind affects the natural world.
“Cerén is regarded internationally as one of the treasures of the world,” Lentz says. “What’s been found there gives you a real idea of what things were like in the past and how humans have modified things. I think what we’re learning there is revolutionizing our concept of the ancient past in Mesoamerica.”
Additional contributors to Lentz’s research paper were students Christine Hoffer (The Ohio State University) and Angela Hood (University of Cincinnati). Funding for the research was provided by multiple National Science Foundation grants.
Climate change, population growth may lead to open ocean aquaculture
05.10.2017 | Oregon State University
New machine evaluates soybean at harvest for quality
04.10.2017 | University of Illinois College of Agricultural, Consumer and Environmental Sciences
University of Maryland researchers contribute to historic detection of gravitational waves and light created by event
On August 17, 2017, at 12:41:04 UTC, scientists made the first direct observation of a merger between two neutron stars--the dense, collapsed cores that remain...
Seven new papers describe the first-ever detection of light from a gravitational wave source. The event, caused by two neutron stars colliding and merging together, was dubbed GW170817 because it sent ripples through space-time that reached Earth on 2017 August 17. Around the world, hundreds of excited astronomers mobilized quickly and were able to observe the event using numerous telescopes, providing a wealth of new data.
Previous detections of gravitational waves have all involved the merger of two black holes, a feat that won the 2017 Nobel Prize in Physics earlier this month....
Material defects in end products can quickly result in failures in many areas of industry, and have a massive impact on the safe use of their products. This is why, in the field of quality assurance, intelligent, nondestructive sensor systems play a key role. They allow testing components and parts in a rapid and cost-efficient manner without destroying the actual product or changing its surface. Experts from the Fraunhofer IZFP in Saarbrücken will be presenting two exhibits at the Blechexpo in Stuttgart from 7–10 November 2017 that allow fast, reliable, and automated characterization of materials and detection of defects (Hall 5, Booth 5306).
When quality testing uses time-consuming destructive test methods, it can result in enormous costs due to damaging or destroying the products. And given that...
Using a new cooling technique MPQ scientists succeed at observing collisions in a dense beam of cold and slow dipolar molecules.
How do chemical reactions proceed at extremely low temperatures? The answer requires the investigation of molecular samples that are cold, dense, and slow at...
Scientists from the Max Planck Institute of Quantum Optics, using high precision laser spectroscopy of atomic hydrogen, confirm the surprisingly small value of the proton radius determined from muonic hydrogen.
It was one of the breakthroughs of the year 2010: Laser spectroscopy of muonic hydrogen resulted in a value for the proton charge radius that was significantly...
17.10.2017 | Event News
10.10.2017 | Event News
10.10.2017 | Event News
20.10.2017 | Information Technology
20.10.2017 | Materials Sciences
20.10.2017 | Interdisciplinary Research