Lost World of the Maya (Full Episode) | National GeographicMay 29, 2021
Hidden under the vast canopy is a
worldof the ancient Maya. Nearly two million square miles of lush vegetation hide centuries-old cities riddled with mysteries, but today lasers in the sky are helping to expose these secrets. It's like having x-ray vision and seeing under the canopy without having to touch a single leaf archaeologists are using this new superpower to unearth treasures in the ground we are starting to get information from all kinds of places where we knew absolutely nothing is Changing our understanding of the Maya and helping create a treasure map of the
worldof Maya Today what escapes the eyes on the ground is often clear to hundreds of more powerful eyes in the sky New technologies are being applied to archeology And it's gathering more information than ever thought possible 2018 was an exciting year for the Maya across the Guatemalan landscape, thousands of new ruins were appearing once hidden structures were revealed via satellites and laser scanning technology. scanning called lidar one of the most exciting tools we have in our hands and that we are just beginning to use in the Amazon is lidar scanning lidar allows us to see through the forest canopy to what is below lidar stands for light detection and ranging it works by shooting streams of light pulses from an aircraft to the ground and timing the return of the pulse as it bounces back to the sensor this reconstructs shapes below the canopy almost like seeing x-ray vision every time we find a new set of tools we get insight into something we never imagined possible in the Amazon and I think LIDAR is one of these things that is going to completely change the way we we understand the landscape, the trees have always been what has prevented us from understanding what is happening in the Amazon and now we can see through them that more than 800 square miles of the Maya Biosphere Reserve have been mapped to reveal enormous feats engineering for the first time together.
Wizards point to a much more extensive and sophisticated society Man-made structures look like complex highways Temples and palaces Engineering like this would make today's urban planners proud, so what happened? How could such a great partnership fail? Could it have been a war? Laser mapping is the latest tool used to help unlock the mysteries of the ancient Mayan world. For decades archaeologists have pieced together clues from ruins discovered on foot the old-fashioned way ten years ago in the heart of Mexico's Yucatan region. From a forgotten Mayan people called the Kiwi, he emerged from the jungle without the help of Ariel Lidar in 800 AD. a local king ruled here and built an impressive pyramid sanctuary 20,000 rocks cut and stacked 30 feet high the ancient
mayaoften placed royal tombs under the pyramids so on a hunch archaeologist george bay decides to sink a shaft directly into Through this building represents an artifact that provides us with information about the evolution of Mayan society by examining it, we hope to understand how the kiwi evolved in the Yucatan over three decades by pulling out of the ground a snapshot of what life must have been like for the little-known Maya who lived here called
mayadel norte or caca surprises we have surprises 21 feet in hole bay and his team makes a major find although to the untrained eye it looks like another piece of rubble oh yeah look this is fantastic this is a vault stone, so for us it is a very distinctive type. of stone here is the face this is the flat face and this back is cut like this at an angle and that would have stuck to the wall these special vault stones were not used to build pyramids but to support the roofs of buildings still inexplicably here there is one deep in the pyramid and when they dig under the base of the pyramid they find something even more out of place the foundation of an old this building is brand new it consists of several steps in a suet sh mono you have an idea when it could date to 400 500 wow the pyramid dates to 800 AD but analysis of pottery shards confirms that the foundations under the pyramid are 300 years older and dates to 500 AD but that is an impossible date to understand why requires a trip south back to guatemala 600 bc early days of mayan civilization scholars always believed that it was here in a region called the mirador basin that civilization was born Mayan civilization the first kings raised the jungles and built monumental cities over the next thousand years the Mayan civilization became the most advanced in the americas mastered mathematics and astronomy perfected the first written language of the western hemisphere and produced impressive works of art but in the year 700 A.D. there was a massive rupture war political strife and famine rocked the mayan world abandoned cities hordes of refugees escape fleeing north, as part of this wave, a refugee king takes root in the kiwi, founds the city and soon after builds a pyramid at least that It is what scientists had always thought until now with the discovery of the foundations of the old building the dates do not add up the foundation dates back to 500 AD but the Mayan refugees did not arrive here until at least two centuries later someone was already occupying Kiwi When the refugees they reached 17 miles away, another discovery raises more questions.
Its location is kept a closely guarded secret for fear of looters. Few archaeologists have seen the discovery in person, including Fatima Techpool. Arriving at this discovery is not an easy task. It is 230 feet underground at the bottom of a cave the tunnel is narrow and only one person can get through at a time Roberto The local residents knew about this cave for years but had no idea of the treasure hidden inside through a maze of tunnels pitch blacks arrive at the remains of a wall here we have a restricted passage there was a wall here marking an entrance separating two areas a public space and a sacred space as fatima enters the sacred chamber he notices something curious it seems that countless torches and ritual fires once burned here the Maya believed that the caves were the dwelling place of the gods Mayan priests made pilgrimages here on special religious festivities consuming hallucinogenic plants to commune with the deities the chamber is filled with broken pottery here there is an intentional deposit of pottery where the Maya broke vessels as part of an offering scholars suspect breaking the c ceramics released the power of the offering they break the pot and spread it around the cave there is almost always a piece missing so we think the maya took a piece with them and maybe buried it outside the cave the team goes deeper into the cave cave the mayan priests relied on ropes made of vines to get here but even with modern climbing equipment fadima's journey still takes three hours she finally reaches the cave's holiest point and discovers an extraordinary underworld ancient mayan paintings adorn the walls of the cave cave burial tomb, one image uses the contours of the cave to create a unique three-dimensional jaguar, another portrays a mythical hunt with a ghost-like jaguar and deer, what is surprising about this painting is that its representations are not of living things , they are in the underworld in the world of death look at the body of the jaguar it is skinny it has not been well fed and it has a deliberate mark in the middle we think it is The markings represent significant disease.
Farima has studied many Mayan cave art but has never seen paintings like these. They are clearly Mayan, but their unusual style suggests that the painter was not part of the southern Maya civilization. Stylistic analysis of the paintings and ceramic offerings in the chamber indicate that the murals were painted around 100 BCE. Places them among the oldest Mayan paintings ever discovered in Mexico. The painting dates back to the dawn of the Mayan civilization. Scholars call it the Preclassic period which was in the year 800 years before refugees from the south arrived in the Yucatan, who painted these mural discoveries at another extraordinary new site may answer that question on the outskirts of the modern Yucatan city of gaze excavation for a new road network is uncovering dozens of landmarks simply by chance 190 new Mayan villages to date and counting the map of the ancient yucatan is rapidly changing exploding with previously unknown cities and towns, we have discovered that there are much more people, much more agriculture and much more happening here than we ever imagined and in a much earlier than we imagined we thought that they were just small villages here now now we will have very complex villages and we might even have c urban centers the whole idea of a much more complex society is emerging here and it's on par and i think with guatemala we were walking next to these sites for decades without understanding them, it wasn't like we had to go digging for these places, they were right under our noses, just us.
I'm not seeing them, which is amazing when you think about it. George Bay and his team resumed their work in the key week, clearing stones from the side of the pyramid. They are doing some detective work trying to figure out why a stone from the vault used to contain above the roof of a building was found buried inside the pyramid, another clue emerges that suggests something is very different about this pyramid, this is something that the workers found and it happened to them at the last second before throwing it away they turned it over and noticed that in fact it is a piece of sculpture a sculpted face here is the face with the nose and the upper part of the mouth so you have to wonder what it is this that is on this face and what is part of a large headdress and mask that this the lord would have been wearing the ancient Maya often attached sculptures like this to the facades of royal buildings it is a decisive clue and those stairs an excavation further reveals the corner of a building which is the top of the preserved building and this is what we call a broken molding over the entrance this pile of rubble here is still is filling the entrance you can see remains of the stucco here probably speckled and painted as the team removes the pyramid in royal shape emerges the palace consists of three buildings a temple on one side the residential quarters of the royal family on the other and a hall of the throne in the middle but why would the king of the key week build a pyramid on top of a palace? power it is not uncommon to see in many different forms building one building on top of another because sacred spaces important places are powerful our argument is that these are attempts to legitimize power george believes one of the first key week kings perhaps even the founder of the city's royal dynasty built the palace centuries later, another king built the pyramid over his ancestors' house making a direct connection to his ancestors' power improving his own palace it may be more notable for another reason the king who built the pyramid was not a late transplant from the south but a scion of a royal family that had been in key week for a long time now it seems clear that here in the yucatan there was a mayan mega society previously unknown to be as ancient and as powerful as the south, we no longer really know where the cradle or genesis of Mayan society is, what we are learning Knowing that there could have been multiple cradles, Guatemala can no longer now that the existence of this northern mega-society is confirmed, the questions multiply rapidly: who were these lost Mayans and why were they forgotten? the average person who thinks of maya sees these great monumental cities what not What I don't realize is that for every one of those cities there are dozens of medium sized towns like Kiwi that house about three four thousand people from an observation tower near Kiwi, it's easier to understand. t of the whole site in the bay view key week was the quintessential northern town that you're actually looking at what would have been downtown kewee kiwi town where that little hill is that is the town center when bay began his investigation, he believed the extent of the Kiwi was limited to the central area around the pyramid, but lidar mapping later revealed a sprawling hilltop property with a massive stairway running across the valley, which which suggests that the kiwi might have been the center of a much larger complex.
Every morning the excavation team walks up the 200 foot hill the ancient Mayans would have walked up that path that would have led directly to this place what you see is basically a pile of rocks but if you were standing here 850 AD you would be standing on the base of a huge staircase that would have taken you to the top of what we think is the palace or the plantation house or the big house even the modern sense it's a very palatial type of construction they have called the site staircase al sky a p lace like a stairway to heaven is amazing in the sense that they built a 9 10 room mansion there and that's a very nice building you know a 9th century mansion is fine living on top of that hill, but who wouldbeen rich enough and bold enough?
To build such over-the-top real estate, archaeologist Stephanie Sims is looking for answers by tearing up the ground of one of the 22 large stone buildings that make up the property below ground A tantalizing clue Here I am sitting below ground level Being correct here in one elite three room residence on top of the hill and here just below the floor are some capitals covering a dedicatory offering the offering consists of a ceramic bowl and plate that appear to have been placed under the floor when the house was built it's a little suspicious that it would be weird to place a plate upside down without covering something, so as the team care
fully removes the plate, specks of evidence emerge small, badly decayed fragments opposite type of eroded and degraded bone still can't tell if it's human or animal bone but I assume it is human the large cornerstones flanking the offering may be hidden Where else it was common practice for the Maya to re-bury the fleshless bones of their deceased ancestors is called secondary burial, our thinking with these secondary burials is that they are bringing bones or parts of family members to new places to sanctify the structures they are building, the cornerstones under the floor of the house break off a human tooth, confirming our suspicions that this is a human burial this is a lower incisor right here there are several and we are still waiting to find out to see how many there are although very decomposed by the acid soil stephanie can distinguish the remains of a human skull and an arm and a leg bones, so this shows us that this offering is part of the burial below the dedication of this house in the laboratory stephanie discovers happily that the owner of this skull did not brush his teeth or floss every day embedded in the teeth 1200-year-old plaque Chemical analysis of food particles in plaque gives Stephanie a clue about the kind of wealth stairwell owners have.
I am finding a much greater diversity of plant foods that were eaten as ingredients in stews and soups squash beans free fruits chilis the bounty suggests that the people who lived in stairway were large plantation owners operating extensive farms in the valley below their property in TOP OF THE HILL As George's team surveys the nearby hills, it's clear that Stairway is not an isolated example, but one of dozens of estates indicative of widespread wealth. Many side buildings begin to emerge at sites like laborer-owned stairway houses. qualified as this are built of stone a rarity in ancient Central America that is surprising what it suggests is that we are not seeing a large peasant population that is under the hands of a very small royal elite but that wealth and prosperity have spread to almost half of the key week population may be evidence of the first middle class in America almost a millennium before the colonial middle class in North America that these people might have had opportunities, they might have been able to acquire land, I mean, it's fun to think about it that they might have been living the Mayan dream if there were such a thing as the mayan dream this is where the kiwi and the ladder happened they are nested in a lush region of yucatan called pook soil here there are abundant fertile natural resources it seems an ideal place for human habitation except for one thing, the region de pook has no water sources, no rivers, lakes, creeks, creeks, these people relied on the control of rainwater collection and management, so how did they do it just a few hundred feet from de pook's house the estate of the stairs? archaeologist bill ringel has found an answer, the water falls a lot here, but only six months of the year, the rest of the time it dries up and there is practically no rain, and this was one of the main adaptations of the pukamaya to this rather waterless environment, this underground cavern is actually a man made cistern called a chiltoon it was a piece of sophisticated engineering carved into the limestone bedrock here we can see how these chiltoons were built first of all they would drill through the hardest rock on earth lid and then once they got under this underlying softer model they would excavate and make this big chamber, the last stage would be to cover it with stucco and you can see the thickness. of the stucco here this this pink material the stucco functioned as a waterproof lining the Maya expertly designed the roofs of the patios and the plazas of the stairway to heaven to capture every last drop of rainwater and then drained it in eight chol tunes scattered throughout the estate the entire top of the hill functioned as a giant rain barrel so how many people could support this ingenious water installation? from the stairs chol tunes provided a reliable source of water for the entire community the typical family of six used 27 gallons per day so st airways chiltoons could have sustained seven families for three months without rain these advanced water works formed a liquid foundation for life on the ladder and for dozens of other kingdoms rich as the key week nearby and sitting on top of that base was a royal elite george bay has found hints of his amazing wealth hidden in the jungle the ruins of a majestic palace depicts a moment in the history of the royal family of the key week when the royal family amassed a great deal of wealth and expressed it through the construction of a huge new palace the king of kiwi had built the pyramid on top of his old palace for which in the adjacent lot he upgraded to new luxury rooms the new palace had 15 main buildings and two ceremonial squares onials from earlier finds george knows the buildings were adorned in ornate sculpture and painted stucco this is one of the best preserved buildings in the new palace the remains of the stu cco can be seen but they would have been painted at times with elaborate murals and then hung beams from certain parts of the ceiling for drapery or tapestries and a variety of furniture would have found their way here by kings such as things like jaguar skin sofas elegant pillows this simple room might have been quite luxurious for 800 AD.
Northern Maya society is over 1500 years old its people have mastered this harsh landscape its ease with water allows for large scale agriculture and generates great wealth for their kings and even a new middle class imagine this place 800 AD. You would have seen the vast landscape of towns villages towns cities the smoke billowing from thousands of cooking fires as women prepared dinners men returning from their fields but along with this portrait of a prosperous society the bay mates bill ringel and tomas gaierda are finding evidence of a disturbing political trend on the rise 20 miles from key week is the majestic city of uzma in the 800s rose to become the powerful political capital of the region local kings like the king of kiwi likely traveled here for take away carrying out diplomacy and paying homage to royalty by uzma ringgel wants to show bay how these buildings underwent a peculiar modification in the 800s and added a distinctive new look to their facades.
What's really interesting is that little image right there, a feathered serpent, and actually there are two feathered serpents here when they're entwined on the façade. You need a visual image. Ringle believes that the snakes are a symbol of a powerful religious cult. it was called quetzalcoatl or the feathered serpent the so-called quetzalcoatl cult maybe a better way to think of it is a political ideology and of course it had religious connotations cult maybe it's the wrong word because it suggests something small scale and extra-governmental this was the political ideology front and center to gain admission into this cult a local king like key weeks had to undergo a rigorous initiation the priest very often kidnapped the initiate for several days underwent rituals of self-mortification works of art from the time represented rituals involving bloodletting ceremonies in which the initiates pierced their penises and other body parts that would be very interesting way of sacrificing yourself obviously very painful another image on the façade represents the journey of an initiate a little man being spit out of the mouth of a feathered serpent we can see the little man moving through his body to ra to emerge as a transformed being and is being transformed precisely because of initiation rituals involving quetzalcoatl the feathered serpent carvings in the american mall suggest that the cult spread north in the 800s when local kings accepted the new ideology political tensions began to rise may have fostered competition between those wishing to adhere to this new ideology and those wishing to remain faithful to the traditio ideology final maya area in the new palace on key week george finds signs that in middle of the boom times something else seems to be wrong we see this big rock pile here in front of the building and it really doesn't make too much sense at first you have this beautiful building here on this side with these rooms you have a set of rooms on the other side and right in the middle you have a big piece of debris we conclude that what we are s seeing it is a real staircase that was built by the workers to give them access to the upper floors of the building here is a scaffolding system that the Mayans used as part of the construction techniques ok now its not gone the staircase it is still here if the building was finished they would have removed the ladder the indications from the scaffolding are that you are seeing construction in progress you are not seeing a finished building another part of the palace from key week shows similar signs of a sudden stop in construction the second s the walls of a building are laid into the ground by masons but never erected all these features are evidence that the city was in
fullbloom that architects were employed that the king felt confident and powerful about what was making the city part of a world that was flourishing and expanding and not this idea of the king being miss havisham sitting in a house in shambles as things slowly fell apart for him and his world fell apart this is a very different picture of what was going on here So what stopped the boom times of the key week in the first war seems an obvious explanation for the stoppage, but a thorough search turns up no arrowheads or spearheads, but then at Stairway to Heaven, Hilltop Estate, the team find clues that at the same time when construction on the palace stopped, this site was abruptly abandoned, however , this is fantastic, you probably have five or six smashed bins on the floor from the time of abandonment.
You know, I think some of them would have been left here on the floor, others were probably hanging on the walls, but these people weren't running for their lives, the evidence suggests an orderly exit, the pots neatly hung on the pegs of the walls are placed on the sides of the rooms. they remained intact and were only broken later when the abandoned building began to crumble. It looks like most of them are right on the edges of the interior, which really looks like they're taking some time to put these vessels somewhere to protect them at the time. they are leaving them as if they were arranging things just before leaving the house, as if they were tidying up in some way, so what could have caused this carefully planned abandonment of the staircase and the abrupt stoppage of work in the palace on the stairway to Heaven?
Data indicates cisterns. would have armed the Maya for three months without rain a few more months with emergency water rationing but evidence from core samples suggests this would not have been enough we found eight t of these bands which suggests in fact not it was just like a massive drought it was probably a series of droughts that last anywhere from three to twenty years and you know every time things got going again they would get hit with quite a long duration drought at some point the droughts they overwhelmed the ladder leaving only one option all it would take would be a short period of time where there is no water in those cisterns and those people would have to leave that hill it is simply impossible to live there the various families elite families were coming to a point in which they had to make a very difficult decision, which was to leave the stairway to heaven, they loaded what they could of their lives on their backs and carefully kept the he rest when the rains returned fully expected that if the Maya also knew about the droughts, they were probably a civilization designed to respond not only to managing rainwater, but also to managing the lack of rainwater, not a surprise they left behind, which becomes the question for us is why they don't come back, so why the residentsStairway and the Kiwi King did not survive these droughts as they clearly have in the past?
The extreme intensity of these droughts was disastrous making a carefully managed response their only hope, but bay and ringel speculate that the northern political establishment was falling into disarray distracted by the cult of the feathered serpent the collapse in the northern mile apparently began during the 9th century and that is also the time period during which this feathered serpent ideology was introduced and this undoubtedly led to rivalries regarding power brokering. Ringle thinks that the political situation may have become so dire that there was no longer any system of government capable of organizing his return with a stable government.
The northern Maya could have survived, but they did. 't be and within a century the major cities and towns of the north as well as the south lay in ruins today the empty jungles of the Yucatan serve as a reminder that even great civilizations can fail as the years slowly passed the jungle reclaimed these magnificent buildings entire towns and cities disappeared under a wave of green they became secrets of the forest only now thanks to new technology and field work can they see the extent of what was lost
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