The city is located in the elevated Puuc Region of the Yucatan in Mexico. The city – featuring a great pyramid and other elaborate architecture – was built above one of the few cave systems in the region that penetrates the permanent water table. Mapping and excavations of the ancient city revealed a network of cisterns and reservoirs that fed the community’s water supply. The cave exploration has discovered hills of broken pottery and charred sacrifices, also indicating the cave was a key religious site that involved worship of the rain gods.
Researcher Nicholas Dunning, a UC professor of geography, says the cave, located in the ancient ruins of the city of Xcoch, was used continuously from at least 800 BC until the 19th century, when it was still used for rituals. UC geography doctoral student Eric Weaver has led a team mapping Xcoch Cave, assisted by other experienced cavers including UC biology graduate students Beth Cortright and Jane Slater.
“This is in a region that has no surface water,” says Dunning. “There are only a handful of caves that go deep enough to get to the permanent water table, so for anyplace that’s bone dry for five months out of the year, this is a pretty special location.”
Two large reservoirs are located in the middle of the city – next to the monumental architecture – and the smaller reservoirs and cisterns extend into the residential area and surrounding farm land.
Dunning says the area was by far the largest city in the region during the Preclassic Period around 800 BC to 100 AD, but adds that there are significant signs the city was abandoned between 100 AD and 300 AD, most likely due to drought.
“The Maya built a stairway to the cave entrance that we have to crawl in to enter and look for stalagmites – cave formations,” says Dunning. “Since this is a seasonal climate, the stalagmites act in the way that tree rings do – recording the rainfall – because they only grow during a part of the year when there’s rain.”
The field work is far from glamorous. Entering the deep cave involves a good deal of crawling through long, narrow tunnels. The summer expeditions also involve working in hot, humid temperatures that can rise as high as 105 degrees. “The oxygen content is so low, you can’t even light a match,” says Dunning.
“We found all kinds of broken pottery,” Dunning says. “The Maya ‘sacrificed’ pottery by putting materials in it, then ritually killing it, as a means of releasing its essence, or to receive blessings from the rain gods with their sacrifices,” Dunning says. Human and animal remains were also found, but researchers are still exploring whether those remains were sacrifices or burials.
Authors on the paper include Dunning, Xcoch project director Michael Smyth, an anthropological archaeologist for The Foundation for Americas Research, Eric Weaver and Philip van Beynen, professor of geography and environmental science at the University of South Florida.
Funding for the project was supported by a grant through the National Science Foundation Arctic Social Science Program awarded to The Foundation for Americas Research.
The Association of American Geographers (AAG) is a nonprofit scientific and educational society founded in 1904. For a century, the AAG has contributed to the advancement of geography. Its members from more than 60 countries share interests in the theory, methods and practice of geography.
Dawn Fuller | Newswise Science News
Solving the mystery of carbon on ocean floor
06.12.2019 | University of Delaware
Great Barrier Reef study shows how reef copes with rapid sea-level rise
05.12.2019 | University of Sydney
University of Texas and MIT researchers create virtual UAVs that can predict vehicle health, enable autonomous decision-making
In the not too distant future, we can expect to see our skies filled with unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs) delivering packages, maybe even people, from location...
With ultracold chemistry, researchers get a first look at exactly what happens during a chemical reaction
The coldest chemical reaction in the known universe took place in what appears to be a chaotic mess of lasers. The appearance deceives: Deep within that...
Abnormal scarring is a serious threat resulting in non-healing chronic wounds or fibrosis. Scars form when fibroblasts, a type of cell of connective tissue, reach wounded skin and deposit plugs of extracellular matrix. Until today, the question about the exact anatomical origin of these fibroblasts has not been answered. In order to find potential ways of influencing the scarring process, the team of Dr. Yuval Rinkevich, Group Leader for Regenerative Biology at the Institute of Lung Biology and Disease at Helmholtz Zentrum München, aimed to finally find an answer. As it was already known that all scars derive from a fibroblast lineage expressing the Engrailed-1 gene - a lineage not only present in skin, but also in fascia - the researchers intentionally tried to understand whether or not fascia might be the origin of fibroblasts.
Fibroblasts kit - ready to heal wounds
Research from a leading international expert on the health of the Great Lakes suggests that the growing intensity and scale of pollution from plastics poses serious risks to human health and will continue to have profound consequences on the ecosystem.
In an article published this month in the Journal of Waste Resources and Recycling, Gail Krantzberg, a professor in the Booth School of Engineering Practice...
03.12.2019 | Event News
15.11.2019 | Event News
15.11.2019 | Event News
06.12.2019 | Earth Sciences
06.12.2019 | Life Sciences
06.12.2019 | Information Technology