An ancient Mayan civilization has come alive again at UF thanks to virtual reality technology.

With the use of an Oculus Rift headset, the students in one general anthropology course are peering through a window in time to the ancient township of Cerros.

The headset, which resembles a pair of goggles attached to a small screen, transports its users into a digitally created environment. The device tracks its user’s head movements, shifting the screen’s view in sync. Oculus VR, the company that creates the headset, was purchased by Facebook in March.

With the device, students have stood atop ceremonial pyramids in the same spots kings might have, observing pink limestone structures that were reduced to ruins over time. They’ve explored homes and temples of two and a half millennia ago. They’ve experienced the ancient city at its peak — before its population vanished.

Jeffrey Vadala, the 32-year-old teaching assistant that instructs the class, said he wanted to connect his students to the ancient world in a way that textbooks never could.

“This is the best way I can take them there: I can give them a portal,” Vadala said. “Everyone that comes in is just blown away by it.”

Vadala said he taught the class once before but felt like there was a better way to get his students interested in the material. One day toward the beginning of Spring, Vadala turned his lecture into a Skype interview with a Voodoo priestess in Haiti. Students asked her questions about culture and religion.

With the backing of his faculty adviser, he said he decided to raise the bar and purchase the device. He wanted to see if it helped students learn once they returned from Spring Break.

But this wasn’t a shot in the dark. Vadala had digitally recreated Cerros previously for an exhibit in the Florida Museum of Natural History.

Using a video-game engine and satellite imagery, pictures and measurements from the city’s archeological site, he digitally rebuilt the town in sections.

Once he made the rendering compatible with the Rift, Vadala let his students sign up to use the device for their second project of the semester. More than half of the class has already used the device, and others are still coming.

Students in Vadala’s class, like 21-year-old Rodrigo Sarmento, came to see what the hype behind the Rift was about.

Sarmento, a UF microbiology and cell science junior, said the experience was unforgettable.

“Honestly, it was one of the coolest things I’ve done at UF,” he said.

The Joukowsky Institute Competition for Accessible Archaeological Writing

As archaeologists, we write for each other in journal articles, book chapters, monographs, and other forums, using language that makes sense to fellow members of the profession. That is as it should be: we have no more reason to “dumb down” our findings than do, say, astronomers, brain surgeons, or epidemiologists in publications for their own communities of scholarship. At the same time, the results of archaeological discovery and analysis are important and deserve the widest possible audience: archaeology has momentous findings to report, and for the periods before written history stands as the only source of evidence we have for the human condition. Unlike other fields which have benefited from brilliant writing in a popular vein by scholars such as Stephen Jay Gould or Carl Sagan, archaeology as a discipline has done rather poorly at the effective communication of its most interesting and important results to the general public, and indeed to itself, which is also important. Certainly, some writers, such as Brian Fagan, have excelled at the task of popular dissemination of some of archaeology’s big themes. Yet most websites, TV shows, and archaeology magazines (such as Archaeology or Biblical Archaeology Review) tend to emphasize the sheer luck of discovery, the romance of archaeology, and supposed “mysteries” that archaeology tries (but usually has failed) to resolve.

We believe that archaeology is worthy of a better level of writing, one that is accessible and exciting to non-specialists, but at the same time avoids excessive simplification, speculation, mystification, or romanticization. As a discipline, we have some fascinating and astonishing results to report, findings that impact our entire understanding of who we are as a species, and how we have come to be as we are now. Some of the most effective writing in this vein has appeared not in professional venues, but in publications with a far wider readership. As just one example, we would cite Elif Batuman’s article in The New Yorker (December 19, 2011) on the Göbekli Tepe site in Turkey, and the many fundamental questions it raises about religion, technology, and human social evolution.

With these thoughts in mind, and to encourage more writing in this vein, we propose a competition for new archaeological writing. We invite the submission of accessible and engaging articles, accompanied by a single illustration, that showcase any aspect of archaeology of potential interest to a wide readership. As an incentive, we offer a prize of $5,000 to the winner. The prize-winning article, together with those by eight to ten other runners-up, will be published in Spring 2015 in a volume of the Joukowsky Institute Publication series (published and distributed by Oxbow Books).


Rules

Anyone may enter the competition, except faculty, postdoctoral fellows, and students at the Joukowsky Institute for Archaeology and the Ancient World, Brown University.

Authors must be able to vouch that their article is solely their own work and has not been published elsewhere.

Articles should be about five to six thousand words in length; include no references, notes, or other scholarly apparatus; be accompanied by a single piece of artwork; and be submitted as a double-spaced Word document. The Word document should be saved so that its name is the title of your article (abbreviated as necessary). The first page should provide your name, address, and e-mail. Your name or other identifying information should not be included anywhere else in the document.

The deadline for receipt of entries is September 1, 2014. Articles must be submitted electronically, to joukowsky_institute@brown.edu. The email’s subject heading should read “Archaeology for the People”.
Submissions will be read anonymously and adjudicated by a panel consisting of faculty and postdoctoral fellows at Brown University.

The result of the competition will be announced by November 2014.

Questions concerning the competition should be directed to Prof. John Cherry (john_cherry@brown.edu) and Prof. Felipe Rojas (felipe_rojas@brown.edu).

A team of archaeologists come across a shaman sculpture (pictured) in an underground burial chamber in the state of Colima, Mexico

He has been guarding a tomb for over 1,500 years.

And only now have a team of archaeologists come across a shaman sculpture in an underground burial chamber in the state of Colima, Mexico.

It is unusual to find one of the statues intact as many have fallen victim to tomb raiders over the centuries.

The sculpture has a long face and holds a weapon - probably an axe - to guard the shaft tomb which was covered over by slabs of volcanic rock.

It was uncovered by archaeologists at the National Institute of Anthropology and History (INAH) who have become the first people to see the sculpture in hundreds of years.

Archaeologist Marco Zavaleta explained that the model was found in the entrance of an underground funerary space in Villa de Alverez.

'With regards to the figure of the shaman, he was found upright and is holding some kind of weapon, probably an axe. He was placed exactly at the entrance, towards the crypt. He is some kind of a guardian of the main character deposited inside the shaft tomb,' he said.

Sites nearby have recently revealed burials of around 35 adults and three infants in cists - small stone coffin-like boxes or used to hold bodies from a slightly later period.

The square shaft, which is around one-and-a-half metres deep, is thought to date to between 300 AD and 600AD and leads to an underground vault measuring approximately two metres squared, containing bones of either one or two individuals, physical anthropologist Rosa Maria Flores Ramirez explained.

They could have been moved to the sides of the vault to make way for another individual who was found lying on his back, who was presumably buried slightly later.

The sculpture has a long face and holds a weapon to guard the shaft tomb which was covered over by slabs of volcanic rock. Six pots of different sizes (pictured) were also recovered

There is a theory that shaft tombs were used as homage to people’s ancestors as well as where people and shaman sculptures were buried.

Six pots of different sizes and an earthenware bowl called a tecomate were also found in the shaft, along with the shaman figure, which measures 19.7inches (51cm).

The objects will be painstakingly cleaned in a bid to recover any traces of seed or other organic material, which could shed light on how the ancient people lived.

Archaeologist Marco Zavaleta (pictured) explained that the model was found in an underground funerary space in Villa de Alverez, in the state of Colima

There is a theory that shaft tombs were used as homage to people’s ancestors as well as where people and shaman sculptures were buried. Six pots of different sizes and an earthenware bowl called a tecomate were also found in the shaft, along with the shaman figure, which measures 19.7inches (51cm) in height

Other shaman figures discovered from the time are less stylised and more representative of the ancient people, some of whom practiced cranial deformation to elongate their heads.

It is believed that burials of this kind belonged to elite members of society as only richer people had the resources to fund such constructions.

Dogs were also buried with important people at the time as a guide to the underworld for the deceased and archaeologists have recovered what they think are dog’s teeth from the Villa de Alverez site, hinting that those laid to rest there were of high social standing.

It is believed that burials of this kind belonged to elite members of society as only richer people had the resources to fund such constructions. Here, the underground burial chamber which has lain undisturbed for 1,500 years is carefully excavated

The square shaft, which is around one-and-a-half metres deep, is thought to date to between 300 AD and 600AD and leads to an underground vault measuring approximately two metres squared (pictured), containing bones of either one or two individuals, according to the archaeologists

The Teotihuacán Project by Jonathan Schobert

(Source: neomexicanismos)

In the state of Yucatan, including the city of Merida, they have discovered 26 pre-Hispanic ball courts for the Ball Game ritual, but there never had been a discovery of one during the construction of a school’s basketball court, as it happened in the West Technological University (UTP), in the municipality of Maxcanu.

The discovery was made during the construction of a basketball court

Archaeologist Eunice Uc, investigator of the INAH Center in Yucatan, just gave word of the finding, and was in charge of verifying the information that was presented by the UTP to INAH, through its principal Rossana Alpizar Rodríguez, when the pre-Hispanic vestige was found as they excavated in order to build the basketball court at the foot of a hill, in an area that had never been explored by archaeologists. 

Rossanna Alpizar narrated: “In order to cover the recreational activities for the students that attend UTP, in 2012 we started to build a basketball court. We chose an area covered in grass, at the foot of the puuc (hill in Mayan language), but when we introduced digging machinery, it crashed into a hard stone which was impossible to move.

The construction has carved stones in the Puuc style

“It was a pink stone that seemed ancient, so we immediately called INAH so they would check it out. The archaeologist that came to the university in order to carry out a report told us: The Mayan are way ahead of you, you can’t build your court because a pre-Hispanic one already exists here: it’s a Ball Game court”. 

Archaeologist Eunice Uc added that the structure was identified with the same architectonic characteristics as the parallel buildings that make up the pre-Hispanic Ball Game courts, which is why INAH immediately started the salvage in order to preserve this heritage which was evidently used as a ritual center.

The ball court has a north-south orientation, consisting of two parallel and relatively narrow buildings

The construction was found at the foot of a mountain, semi buried in a plan of red earth called kankab, which is relevant because the construction was placed strategically: at the foot of a hill, and precisely at a point covered by privileged earth to farmers, since kankabal is rich in nutrients. 

One of the activities during the Ball Games is narrated in the Popol Vuh: “It says that the mythical twins Hunahpu and Ixbalanque faced, in ball player’s getup, the lords of the underworld who are finally defeated, thus conquering death and giving way to life; this myth continues with the resurrection of the twins father who transforms into the corn god; this suggests there is a huge link between this deity and the ritual game that took place in these sacred spaces”.

A University of Calgary archaeologist is sharing new evidence to suggest powerful warrior queens in the Mayan civilization were not an anomaly.

According to Kathryn Reese-Taylor, a large contingent of Mayan warrior queens emerged between 600 to 800 AD.

Her research suggests these queens made a profound impact on their society in areas ranging from politics, culture and commerce to warfare blasts through previous ideas surrounding the role of women in Mayan society.

"As I began researching, I noticed the existing literature suggested there was only a few isolated examples of these warrior queens in Mayan society," said Reese-Taylor, an associate professor at the University of Calgary.

"I started to realize that was bogus. There were, in fact, many examples of noble warrior women."

Reese-Taylor began researching the idea in earnest after a 2004 archaeological expedition to the Great Pyramids of Naachtun in the forests of Guatemala — one of the most remote, inaccessible sites of the Mayan world.

There the research team discovered a massive stone pillar depicting a fierce Naachtun queen standing upon a conquered foe and Reese-Taylor says she decided to look for more evidence of Mayan queens from that era.

While researching a book on the topic, she discovered the appearances of such figures spikes dramatically between 600 and 800 AD, with hundreds of examples popping up in that time frame compared to almost nothing in earlier periods.

"It’s suddenly this quantum leap in the number of women warriors depicted on these royal monuments," she said. "I began to amass this data and look at why this role might have emerged for women at this time."

Cultural biases blinded earlier research

While research on the warrior queens goes back to the late 19th century, Reese-Taylor says earlier archaeologists simply didn’t have enough information — such as the ability to decipher hieroglyphics — to make sense of what they were investigating.

Up until the 1970s, researchers viewed the Maya as peaceful priest scholars who studied time, rather than warriors whose society involved sacrifice.

It’s possible researchers in the post-World War era had a cultural desire for the possibility of utopian societies, and molded their understanding of the Mayan world to fulfill that fantasy.

As well, cultural biases may have put blinders on the research.

"In the late 19th and early 20th century, the idea of women as warriors was completely unheard of," Reese-Taylor said. "Women didn’t lead battles. Figures like Catherine the Great and Joan of Arc were thought of as the exceptions of history."

Reese-Taylor’s research is currently featured in the March 2014 issue ofDiscover magazine in an article entitled The Power and Glory of the Maya Queens.”

This is particularly important for my area of study in understanding when and where particular figure styles come from.