Archive for November, 2009

Multi-Billion Peso Tourist Development Slated for Chichen Itza, Vendors Claim

November 28th, 2009 by ejalbright

Disney's Maya-themed Coronado Springs Resort
The Maya-themed Coronado Springs Resort at Walt Disney World.

A giant resort complex, with a convention center, 5-star hotels, golf courses, gift shops, and artificial lakes, is planned for property near Chichen Itza, according to leaders of the vendors who invade the archaeological zone each day to sell trinkets to tourists.

La Jornada, a Mexican newspaper, reports that leaders of the vendors claimed to have received information that a consortium of Chinese, Canadian, and French corporations were working with Yucatan to design a resort complex that would begin construction in 2010. Investment in the project is estimated at $2 billion (Mexican), roughly $154 million dollars U.S.

Disney's Maya-themed Coronado Springs Resort
The reporter contacted state authorities who said they had no knowledge of the project.

Villevaldo Moo Pech y Silvia Cime Mex, leaders of the several hundred vendors, said they learned of the development from highly placed sources, but said they did not know the names of the companies involved. However, the project is coordinated by the office of Governor Ivonne Ortega Pacheco through the state Sistema para el Financiamiento (the state office of Finance). According to the article, the project must be approved by a three-quarters majority of the state Legislature.

Disney's Maya-themed Coronado Springs Resort

The leaders of the vendors believe that a project of this magnitude will negatively affect their constituents as well as directly affect the archaeological zone of Chichen Itza, which is the patrimony of the Maya. Pech Moo and Cime Mex have requested information from the state government, but have received no answers, they said.

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2012: No End (of the World) in Sight, Says Expert

November 24th, 2009 by ejalbright

Photos by Daniela Hirschfeld

T.S. Eliot tells us that the world will end, not with a bang, but with a whimper. According to Marc Zender, however the world ends, it won’t be on Dec. 21, 2009, when the Maya’s Long Count calendar runs out.

Dr. Marc Zender is a Research Associate in Maya Hieroglyphic Writing at Harvard University’s Peabody Museum of Archaeology and Ethnology and a Lecturer in the Department of Anthropology. Last week he gave a well received lecture to a packed house in Harvard’s Geological Lecture Hall entitled “Much Ado About Nothing: 2012 and the Maya.”

Like the Bard’s play referenced in the title, the supposed end of the Maya Long Count will result in a big, fat nothing–just another day, and according to Dr. Zender, that’s pretty much how the ancient Maya looked at it.

According to Dr. Zender, the end of the Maya calendar has been hijacked by New Agers, and that most of the facts they use are completely wrong, among them:

  • – The actual date is Dec. 23, 2009, not the day of the winter solstice, Dec. 21.
    – The Maya calendar does not end on that day but keeps going, at least until well after 4000 a.d.e.
    – Many of the predictions touted by New Agers (e.g., humankind will complete a fifth age and either ascend to a higher consciousness or watch the world end) actually come from the Aztecs, not the Maya, and correlate to a completely different calendar.
  • You can listen to Dr. Zender’s lecture in its entirety HERE.

    I also interviewed Dr. Zender for a PodCast about 2012 that you can download HERE.

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    Tales of Maya Skies Opens in US

    November 23rd, 2009 by ejalbright

    This is a terrific introduction into how a San Francisco company came to Chichen Itza to produce the planetarium show, “Tales of Maya Skies,” which premiered in the US on Saturday. Courtesy of QUEST on KQED Public Media.

    “Tales of Maya Skies,” an animated educational program on Maya astronomy filmed primarily at Chichen Itza held its United States premiere on Saturday, Nov. 21, at the Chabot Space & Science Center in Oakland, Calif.

    The 32-minute film is narrated by the wonderful singer/songwriter Lila Downs. The film uses Chichen Itza to tell of the astronomic accomplishments of the ancient Maya. It uses computer animation based on laser scans taken at the ancient city.

    Here’s the official trailer.

    I’ll have a review of the film later this week. Here’s the official press release:

    “Tales of the Maya Skies”
    Immerse yourself in the beauty of Chichén Itzá, Mexico, the “seventh wonder of the modern world.” Listen to the story of the ancient Maya civilization. Experience Tales of the Maya Skies.
    With unprecedented realism Tales of the Maya Skies immerses us in Maya science, art and mythology, using full dome digital technology to transport us back into the world of the Maya.
    Produced by Chabot Space & Science Center, Tales of the Maya Skies inspires and educates through its description of the Maya’s accurate astronomical achievements and how astronomy connected them to the Universe.


    Setting Grammy Award winner and Oscar nominee, Lila Downs, narrates, as Tales of the Maya Skies brings us back to the ancient jungles of Mexico, where the Maya built cities and temples aligned to movements of the Sun, Moon and planets. Over many years they observed and documented astronomical events with great accuracy.
    The Maya made sense of an ever-changing world by observing, recording and predicting natural events such as solstices, solar eclipses, weather patterns, and planetary movements. These observations, in combination with a sophisticated mathematical system, allowed them to develop a precise calendar system; their measurements of the length of the solar year were more accurate than measurements the Europeans used as the basis of the Gregorian calendar. The Maya also predicted eclipses, were able to forecast seasonal change and developed the concept of mathematical zero, enabling them to predict events into the future.
    Tales of the Maya Skies weaves together this rich combination of science, culture, and legend, immersing viewers in the sounds and sights of an ancient way of life.
    Recent deciphering of the Maya hieroglyphics is providing archeologists with new and exciting discoveries. Using three dimensional laser scanning and advanced graphic techniques, the virtual reconstruction of architecture in Tales of the Maya Skies also supports these archeologists in interpreting the ancient sites, and contributes to their conservation.
    Funding for the production of Tales of the Maya Skies was provided by the National Science Foundation and the Instituto Politécnico Nacional. It is the first full-dome digital show highlighting a Latin American culture, and Spanish language narration is available.
    Tales of the Maya Skies will show in planetariums in the United States, Latin America and around the world.

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    2012–Learn the Truth Thursday at Harvard

    November 17th, 2009 by ejalbright

    A fragment of Tortuguero Monument 6, the only Classic Maya record of the 2012 date. The monument is now on display in the Museo Carlos Pellicer, Villahermosa. Photograph by Marc Zender.

    A few days ago I had the pleasure of interviewing Marc Zender of Harvard’s Peabody Museum for a podcast on 2012. On Thursday, Nov. 19, 2009, Dr. Zender will present, “Much Ado about Nothing: 2012 and the Maya,” a free lecture slated for 5:30 p.m. in Harvard’s Geological Lecture Hall, 24 Oxford St., Cambridge, Mass.

    Last weekend the biggest movie in the world was the disaster flick “2012.” According to Dr. Zender, the world will not be ending on Dec. 21, 2012 when the Maya calendar runs out.

    “The 2012 meme has been hijacked by New Age enthusiasts and dubiously linked to everything from galactic alignments to the prophecies of Nostradamus,” Dr. Zender warns, according to the Peabody Museum’s press release. The archaeologist promises to “shed some light on the New Age nonsense surrounding the supposed Maya ‘end date’ of 2012.”

    And to make his point, Dr. Zender will invoke Shakespeare’s “Much Ado About Nothing,” which, coincidentally, was written just after the Spanish Conquest, which Dr. Zender argues wiped out whatever was left of Maya high culture after the so-called Maya collapse of the 10th century.

    About Marc Zender (from the press release)

    Marc Zender (PhD 2004, Archaeology, University of Calgary) is a Research Associate in Maya Hieroglyphic Writing at the Peabody Museum of Archaeology and Ethnology, Harvard University, and a Lecturer in the Department of Anthropology.

    He also assists Joel Skidmore in maintaining Mesoweb, a major internet resource for the study of Mesoamerican culture. Zender’s research interests include anthropological and historical linguistics, comparative writing systems and decipherment (particularly of Mayan and Aztec writing) and Mesoamerican archaeology. Since 1998, Marc has been the project epigrapher for the Proyecto Arqueológico de Comalcalco, directed by Ricardo Armijo Torres, and he has undertaken archaeological, linguistic and epigraphic fieldwork in much of the Maya area, most recently in Copan, Honduras, where he assists Dr. William L. Fash in teaching the Harvard Field School. Marc’s recent publications include “One Hundred and Fifty Years of Nahuatl Decipherment (PARI Journal 8(4): 24-37) and, with Karl Taube, “American Gladiators: Ritual Boxing in Ancient Mesoamerica” (in Blood and Beauty: Organized Violence in the Art and Archaeology of Mesoamerica and Central America, Cotsen Institute of Archaeology Press, 2009).

    About the Peabody Museum

    The Peabody Museum is among the oldest archaeological and ethnographic museums in the world with one of the finest collections of human cultural history found anywhere. It is home to superb materials from Africa, ancient Europe, North America, Mesoamerica, Oceania, and South America in particular. In addition to its archaeological and ethnographic holdings, the Museum’s photographic archives, one of the largest of its kind, hold more than 500,000 historical photographs, dating from the mid-nineteenth century to the present and chronicling anthropology, archaeology, and world culture.

    Location: The Peabody Museum is located at 11 Divinity Avenue in Cambridge. The Museum is a short walk from the Harvard Square MBTA station.

    Hours: 9 A.M. to 5 P.M., seven days a week. The Museum is closed on Thanksgiving Day, Christmas Eve, Christmas Day, and New Year’s Day. Admission is $9 for adults, $7 for students and seniors, $6 for children, 3–18. Free with Harvard ID or Museum membership. The Museum is free to Massachusetts residents Sundays, 9 A.M. to noon, year round, and Wednesdays from 3 P.M. to 5 P.M. (September to May). Admission includes admission to the Harvard Museum of Natural History. For more information call 617-496-1027 or go online to:

    Media Contact: Faith Sutter, Communications Coord. Tel: (617) 495-3397

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    Paul McCartney, Elton John, Next to Perform at Chichen Itza

    November 6th, 2009 by ejalbright

    Sarah Brightman had not even taken the stage last Saturday when government officials in Yucatan announced that former Beatle Paul McCartney would perform at Chichen Itza in 2011, preceded by Elton John in spring of 2010.

    Yucatan Governor Ivonne Ortega Pacheco announced the line up the day before soprano Sarah Brightman took the stage at Chichen Itza to perform many of her international favorites. The governor said that Elton John would be pounding his piano in front of the Pyramid of Kukulcan in late March or early April, and that McCartney would be there sometime in 2011 as part of his “farewell tour.”

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    Excavation Underway at Chichen Itza Building Dated to Ninth Century

    November 5th, 2009 by ejalbright

    Casa Colorada, or The Red House (photo by Chris Reeves)

    Mexican archaeologists have begun excavation and study of the Casa Colorada complex at Chichen Itza, which predates the era when Chichen Itza was a major Maya political power. The hope is to learn about the early formation of the city.

    Archaeologists believe Chichen Itza’s peak as a major Maya center dated sometime between 1000 and 1100 a.c.e. (a.d). There are several glyphs carved into the Casa Colorada (“Red House” or in Maya “Chichanchob”) that contain a Maya equivalent of the date 869 a.c.e., or roughly a century and a half before Chichen Itza reached full flower. The Casa Colorada complex is located south of the Great Plaza that contains El Castillo, the Temple of Warriors, and the Great Ball Court. Most tourists pass right by it on their way to see the Caracol and Las Monjas.

    Mexican archaeologists from INAH, the federal agency that oversees the nation’s preColumbian ruins, are excavating several structures in the area of the Casa Colorada such as the Casa del Venado (“House of the Deer”) and a small ball court. By dating artifacts found in the area, the archaeologists believe they can better understand the evolution of the city over the centuries.

    Below is the official release from INAH:

    At casa Colorada Conjunct, at Chichen Itza, Yucatan, a group of specialists from the National Institute of Anthropology and History (INAH) conduct excavations to verify the origin of the ancient Maya city, parting from a hieroglyphic inscription that refers to the year 869 AD, date that could precise the occupation period before the peak of this site, between 1000 and 1100 AD.

    The inscription consists of a stylized strip with glyphs located at the start of the vault of Casa Colorada building, which presents a good conservation state. In a preliminary way, archaeologists have identified information related to important Maya characters such as Chichen Itza and Ek Balam rulers, as well as the construction date of the temple.

    “The important piece of information is the date 869 AD that implies the year of construction of the conjunct as well as a complete sequence of the earliest occupation of the site, towards the end of Late Classic period (between 800 and 850 AD)”, informed archaeologist Francisco Osorio Leon.

    The INAH specialist, in charge of the Research and Integral Restoration of Casa Colorada Conjunct Project, added that this architectural conjunct is integrated by 4 buildings distributed around a central platform, where a stele with inscriptions was located as well.

    “We think that the 2.3 meters high stele was displayed at the center of the platform. The only stele found to present at Chichen Itza was fragmented, maybe during a battle.

    “The stele is essential in the site’s study, since it counts with a series of hieroglyphs that unfortunately have not been completely deciphered”, declared Osorio Leon, adding that the deciphering of hieroglyphs and the results of ceramic material analyses may date the building between 800 and 850 AD.

    Verification of such date as well as research at Serie Inicial Conjunct, would represent enough evidence to precise one of the first occupation periods in the ancient Maya city, before the flowering of Chichen Itza as a great city, besides complementing the chronological panorama.

    Recently, new excavations began in different Casa Colorada Conjunct structures, such as the central platform, a colonnade and the building Casa del Venado, which conserves atop a series of vaulted rooms.

    Osorio Leon mentioned restoration work at a ballgame court (the 10th found at Chichen Itza) and the construction that names the conjunct is being conducted at the same time as excavations.

    “This is the main structure in the conjunct: it is nearly 15 meters high and has a staircase. A vault with 3 accesses is found atop. The main façade presents merlons with big-nosed deities and decorative figureheads associated to Chaac, Maya god of rain, typical at Puuc Region”.

    “Conservation state is excellent, and the relevance of our research relies in the possibility of completing a chronological occupation panorama of Chichen Itza site”, commented the INAH archaeologist who works in this project with Francisco Perez Ruiz, Mariza Carrillo, Dulce Gongora and Rocio Gonzalez.

    About archaeological material found to present, in process of analysis and register, he mentioned they are mainly ceramic fragments of Cehpech type at the Maya site, distinguished from the most popular at the site for have being manufactured with foreign material and by its’ red-on-buff colors.

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    Sarah Brightman Dazzles at Chichen Itza

    November 2nd, 2009 by ejalbright

    She came, she sang, she conquered.

    The soprano Sarah Brightman sang Saturday at Chichen Itza and the concert went off without any ill surprises. Here’s one reporter’s account of her concert:

    Sarah Brightman, English soprano, classical crossover musician, performed a Saturday night concert before one of the majestic Mexican pyramids of Chichen Itza, one of the seven wonders of the world, and was greeted by an emotional ovation by the public.

    Standing before the Pyramid of Kukulkan, which in Maya means ‘feathered serpent’, the English singer received the applause of the audience. The Maya monument, where the sun causes Kukulcan to descend each equinox, on Saturday night was lit up with colored lights that made the figure of the singer stand out as she intermated ‘Deliver Me’ and ‘Fleurs du mal.’

    As the clouds fell on Chichen Itza on Saturday Saturday night, an expectant crowd of about 6,000 people waited in silence for the start of the concert.

    “I hear my songs of happiness,” she told the crowd in rapid-fire Spanish. “My next song is from my album ‘Symphony’,” and then she sang ‘Gothica’, one of his greatest hits from her album’s global launch in January 2008 .

    ‘Beautiful day’ and ‘What a Wonderful World’, were among the first songs she offered before a demanding audience that was beginning to feel warm. There was only mild applause when she finished ‘Dust in the Wind’.

    The singer appeared in 13 different costumes, and interpreted 25 songs such as ‘Who Wants To Live Forever’ and ‘Son of the Moon’.

    She sang a duet with Aki Erkan, ‘Canto Della Terra’ and ‘Sarai Qui,’ and closed the first part of the show with a rendition of ‘Nessun Dorma’, an aria from the opera Turandot by Puccini.

    During the program she sang in English, Italian and Spanish. The Argentinian countertenor Fernando Lima performed a duet, the Passion and Ave Maria, while Sarah Brightman sang after ‘We wi shing’ and ‘Time to say goodbye’, when he wore bright red costumes, bright with sequins and feathers, in a bright image on the deep blue that lit the Kukulkan.

    Below are several highlights from the concert captured by a member of the audience:

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