Archive for November, 2007

Police Take in Tour at Chichen Itza

November 29th, 2007 by ejalbright

the Police

The Police–Sting, Andy Summers and Stewart Copeland–took a break from their worldwide reunion tour to take a tour of another kind, in this case, the ruins of Chichen Itza.

Last Saturday, the band wandered around Chichen Itza and that night took in the light-and-sound show. According to management of the resort where they stayed, the band was “fascinado” by the ruins.

The trio spent three days in Yucatan between tour dates, staying at the Hacienda San Jose Cholul, a luxury resort some 30 kilometers from Merida.

For a blow-by-blow account of the band’s trip to the land of the Maya, read the Diario de Yucatan story HERE (in Spanish).

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Peabody at Harvard Spruces up Chichen Itza Casts

November 27th, 2007 by ejalbright

One of the the 700 casts of Maya and Aztec monuments at Harvard’s Peabody Museum (photo by Stephanie Mitchell/Harvard News Office)

The Peabody Museum is dusting off its old casts of Maya and Aztec monuments made more than a century ago across Mexico and Central America, including several taken from monuments at Chichen Itza.

Through the end of February, museum staff and students will take 700 casts from storage, clean them and assess them, something that has not happened in 30 years. Eventually the casts will be stored in the former High Energy Physics Laboratory, which is being renovated to accommodate them. The large castings that were done in sections will be put back together.

The project is supervised by Barbara Fash, director of the Corpus of Maya Hieroglyphic Inscriptions Program.

The Peabody Museum, in addition to the casts, also is home to Edward Thompson’s collection of artifacts dredged from the Cenote Sagrado (Sacred Cenote) at Chichen Itza.

Read the Harvard News Service’s article on cast project HERE.

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Federal Government Promises $5 Million to Yucatan and Chichen Itza

November 26th, 2007 by ejalbright

The Ministry of Tourism has pledged 52 million pesos to improve the tourist infrastructure at Chichen Itza and the so-called Ruta Mundo Maya.

The ministry also signed cooperative agreements with the state of Yucatan and Fonatur, Mexico’s national fund for tourism development. The agreement is aimed at preserving the ruins, as well as defining a new road network, eliminating pollution from tourist activities and integration of the Ruta Maya regional tour.

Rodolfo Elizondo Torres, Mexico’s secretary of tourism, said that the collaborative agreement aims to bring more visitors to the area, but in an orderly and sustainable manner. “This agreement is designed to safeguard the archaeological and cultural vestiges of that area as a World Heritage Site, and also considers the definition of a new network access road and crossing the area of archaeological monuments; installation of a system of non-polluting transportation tourist and the integration of regional routes and tourist circuits,” he said.

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Countdown to 2012: Toltecs Appear in Comic Strip

November 23rd, 2007 by ejalbright

(First of an occasional series identifying signs that the world will end in 2012)

dresden codak

The Dresden Codak is written and drawn by Aaron Diaz of Mobile, Alabama. The strip, according to Diaz, is an “illustrated celebration of science, death and human folly.” It also tends to be a bit cerebral, a startling example of what happens when a liberal arts education takes you to the dark side.

The comic strip should not be confused with the Dresden Codex, one of the handful of books of the ancient Maya that some scholars believe may have been written in the vicinity of Chichen Itza some time before the arrival of the Spanish.

In one strip, a detail of which appears above, one of Diaz’s regular characters is required to write a 10-page paper on the Toltecs, the reputed conquerers of Chichen Itza from central Mexico. It strains credulity that the Toltecs would ever appear in a comic strip, and hence why I am nominating The Dresden Codak as one more indicator that demonstrates the world will indeed come to an end in 2012 when the Maya calendar runs out.

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Happy Thanksgiving! Turkeys at Chichen Itza

November 21st, 2007 by ejalbright

As the Pilgrims never made it as far south as Yucatan, Thanksgiving is not one of the top Mexican holidays. But what they do have south of the border, specifically in Yucatan, is one of the greatest turkeys in North America– the Ocellated Turkey (Agriocharis ocellata).

maya turkeys

Above are some representations of the ocellated turkey from various Maya codices. The above graphic comes from those wonderful folks at Project Gutenberg who scanned and posted a wonderful little book, Animal Figures in the Maya Codices, by Glover M. Allen and Alfred Tozzer (1904)

Here’s an excerpt from the book regarding the ocellated turkey:

This turkey (Maya kuopen o with dot under) is an important species in the Maya economy, and is seen frequently in the manuscripts. This is a smaller bird than the more northern true turkey (Meleagris) and is characterized by the presence of curious erect knobs on the top of the naked head. These are shown in conventionalized form in the various figures (above), and afford a ready means of identification.

On the bill of the bird shown in Tro-Cortesianus 10b (above, fig. 2) occurs again the curious symbol, a circle surrounded by dots, previously noted under the frigate-bird and pelican. It probably has some special significance. Other figures of ocellated turkeys show but little in addition to the points just discussed. One shown above, fig. 7, from Codex Vaticanus 3773, however, has a circular ring about the eye and the wattles are indicated as projections merely. In fig. 13, they are apparently shown as stalked knobs found elsewhere in connection with serpent head ornaments. It is only the head in this latter figure, which is considered in this interpretation.

In the Nuttall Codex, there frequently occur representations of a bird that was evidently used for sacrificial purposes. It is shown with erectile head feathers and a ring of circular marks about the eye or with concentric circles. These figures are not surely identifiable, but probably represent this turkey. Possibly they are the chachalaca (Ortalis vetula pallidiventris), a gallinaceous bird, commonly kept in semi-domestication in Mexico, whose bare eye ring and slightly erectile head feathers may be represented by the drawings.

It is probable that this turkey is the bird represented frequently in the Maya codices as a bird of sacrifice. The head alone usually appears in this connection, among other places, in Dresden 34a (above, fig. 10), 41c (fig. 14), 29c (fig. 16), 28c (fig. 17), and in Tro-Cortesianus 12b (above, fig. 11), 105b (fig. 12), 107b (fig. 15). In several of these places the head is represented as resting on one or more Kan signs, again meaning bread, as well as on the vessel or jar.

In Dresden 26c (above, fig. 9), the whole turkey is pictured as an offering, as in the preceding case noted in Dresden 35a (figure not shown). The whole bird as an offering may also appear in Tro-Cortesianus 4a (figure not shown) corresponding to the offering of venison and iguana on the following pages. This representation of the entire bird is very rare although the fish, when used as an offering, is always represented as a whole and the iguana is in most cases when used in the same connection. [Diego de] Landa confirms the offering of the heads of birds with bread.

It is, however, the sacrifice of a bird, probably a turkey, by decapitating, that is especially interesting, as the operation as shown in the Dresden Codex 25c (figures not shown), in the rites of the four years, is described in full by Landa. In the codex, a priest is represented as holding in his hand before an altar, a headless bird. Landa tells us that in the Kan, the Muluc, the Ix, and the Cauac years, the priests burnt incense to the idol, decapitated a “gallina” (undoubtedly a turkey), and presented it to the god.

The turkey is also used as a head-dress. Only in one case, however, Tro-Cortesianus 95c (above, fig. 5), is the whole bird represented in this connection. This is clearly of totemic significance here, as it occurs in that part of the codex where birth and infant baptism are shown. In many other places there are curious partial representations of bird heads in the front of head-dresses which may or may not be identified as heads of turkeys. Among these are the head-dress of god H in Dresden 7c, of god E in Dresden 11e, of god C in Dresden 13b, of god A in Dresden 23c, and a female divinity in Dresden 20a (above, fig. 13). Schellhas identifies these birds as vultures.

That the turkey is connected with the rain seems clear. This is especially the case among the Nahuas. In the Aubin manuscript the rain god, Tlaloc, often appears in the disguise of the turkey-cock (uexolotl), and in the Vaticanus 3773, 14, the turkey (above, fig. 7) is represented in the “House of Rain,” in contrast to the owl shown in the “House of Drought.” It might be noted also that Fewkes shows that the turkey is emblematic of the rain among the pueblo peoples. The same idea seems to be present among the Mayas, as we note in the Tro-Cortesianus 10b (above, fig. 2) the turkey is pictured in the rain and surrounded on three sides by bands of constellation signs.

Two methods of capturing the turkey are shown in the Tro-Cortesianus 93a and 91a (above, figs. 1, 3). By the first, the bird is captured alive in a sort of wicker basket, which drops over it at the proper moment. The second method is by the “twich-up” or snare, which consists of a noose tied to a bent sapling and properly baited. In connection with graphic above, fig. 1, it may be suggested that possibly this represents a cage rather than a trap, in which the bird is confined. The Lacandones at the present time often keep their totem animals in captivity.

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UK Tour Operators Put Yucatan in the Top 10 Destinations

November 20th, 2007 by ejalbright

Pancho Villa as British Tourist
Pancho Villa welcomes British tourists to Mexico wearing their native garb

The Association of Independent Tour Operators of Great Britain named Yucatan one of the top 10 destinations in the world to visit in 2008.

Yucatan is the only place in the Americas to crack the top 10. According to, a tourism Web site, the selection of Chichen Itza as one of the seven wonders of the world was a major factor in the AITO’s decision to include it.

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What Killed the Dinosaurs? Gas

November 19th, 2007 by ejalbright

Cretaceous Dawn © 1996 George Arthur Bush

Gerta Keller, a scientist at Princton, has been trying to kill the dinosaurs for years. Now she thinks she’s found her weapon of choice: Gas.

Keller is what is known in polite scientific circles as “the loyal opposition.” While most of the scientific world believes dinosaurs became extinct as a direct result of a 10-kilometer-in-diameter asteroid from striking the earth 65 million years ago near what is today the Yucatan peninsula, Keller thinks that it’s poppycock. While she doesn’t dispute that such an asteroid struck the earth or that it’s impact was a calamity, she thinks it came 300,000 years before the mass extinction of the dinosaurs, and the rise of mammals as the dominant species on the planet.


One of the problems Keller has faced is that while it’s all fine and good to poke holes in the dino-killing asteroid theory, you need to find some other cause for why the giant lizards suddenly disappeared.

Keller now has found her literal smoking gun–volcanic flows in India that released massive amounts of climate changing gases. The so-called Deccan Traps, giant lava flows in India, date from the end of the Cretaceous period, when dinos ruled, and the beginning of the Tertiary period, when mammals began to call the world their own. Earlier research indicated the flows occurred almost a million years before. But recently researchers in India found flows that contained fossils of marine plankton from the Cretaceous period, but no such primitive fossils in sediments trapped above.

Other scientists claim that the Deccan Traps would not produce enough gases to sufficiently change the environment and kill off the dinos. The debate goes on.

You may be wondering why this topic is in a blog about Chichen Itza. The Chicxulub asteroid, which according to some wiped out the dinosaurs, also created the unique geologic conditions that spawned cenotes in the Yucatan. The most famous cenote of all is the Cenote Sagrado at Chichen Itza. Had there been no asteroid, there would not have been cenotes, and certainly there would never have been a Chichen Itza. What is not known is why Chichen Itza was settled by humans, and not evolved dinosaurs.

TIME magazine story, The Dinosaur Conspiracy Theory.


Chichen Itza Had Origins in Cosmic Collision 160 Million Years Ago

‘Mother’ … (SLAP!) … ‘Daughter’ … (SLAP!) … ‘Mother’ … (SLAP!) …

Dino Disappearance Disputed

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Chess Battle to Be Fought at Chichen Itza

November 16th, 2007 by ejalbright

Ukrainian Vassily Ivanchuk and 22 other grandmasters will complete in a chess tournament, including one round at Chichen Itza.

Maya chess

The 20th Torneo Internacional de Ajedrez Carlos Torre Repetto In Memoriam (Carlos Torre Repetto Memorial Chess Tournament) will run from Dec. 15 to 23 in Merida. The competitors will compete for purses totalling 500,000 pesos. The finals will be held Dec. 22 in the archaeological zone of Chichen Itza in front of El Castillo.

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7,000-Year-Old Cave Paintings Found Near Chichen

November 15th, 2007 by ejalbright

Cave painting
Photo by Jacinto Kanek (EFE).

Anthropologists have discovered cave paintings near Chichen Itza believed to predate the Maya civilization by more than 5,000 years.

The paintings are deep with a cave called Gruta Kab in Kaua, a small village between Chichen Itza and Valladolid. The cave is 4 to 5 kilometers long, and winds 8 meters under the surface.

Some 60 figures have been found so far, according to Carlos Augusto (in photo above), the administrative secretary of the School of Anthropological Sciences of the Universidad Autónoma de Yucatán. The “paint” used is “cankab” red soil treated as a pigment, rich in iron oxide. According to experts, it adheres well to walls.

There are depictions of human figures praying (arms extended upward and squatting), men hunting with spears in hand, animals and birds, and impressions of hands in positive and negative, he said. The style indicates they are of great antiquity, pre-dating the Maya civilization which flourished in this region from around the time of Christ to about 1500.


Augusto also reported there are more modern paintings in the cave, including one believed to be the Maya symbol “Ajau.” Anthropologists have also found shards of pottery from the Maya era, indicating the cave had been used over many millennia. There we also representations of crosses, possibly indicating the cave was used after the time of the Spanish Conquest.

Even though the cave is difficult to get into, the anthropologists also found cave paintings of more recent vintage, in the form of graffiti.

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El Castillo the Centerpiece at Yucatan State Fair

November 13th, 2007 by ejalbright

Theresa, a US expatriate in Merida, was at the fair the other day, and came back with a scoop–at least to me. She posted the first picture of the “giant” model of El Castillo which is the centerpiece of the Xmatkuil Fair.

Theresa photo
Detail of photo of fair, by Theresa.

Theresa posted her photo and description of the fair at her blog, “¿What do I do all day? (One woman’s life and retirement in Mérida, Yucatán, México).

She writes about her life and experiences in Yucatan. The blog is outgrowth of her observations that she regularly posts at Merida Insider, the best forum for folks who live or are moving to Yucatan. On her own blog, Theresa gets to wax poetic about whatever is on her mind, and it almost always has to do with the perspective of a non-Mexican making a go of it in Yucatan. Give it a shot!

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