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> A 'strange and fascinating' find, Mayan nobles massacred

The Great Ving
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Posted: Nov 22 2005, 04:09 PM
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A 'strange and fascinating' find
By Dan Vergano
Updated 11/17/2005 12:10 AM
The remains of a royal massacre uncovered at an abandoned Maya city are providing clues to the ancient mystery of why that civilization collapsed 1,200 years ago, according to a team of archaeologists.

While years of unrelenting drought have long been thought to play a major role, the dismembered bodies are fresh proof that the Maya did not go gentle into that good night.

The skeletal remains and finery of the Maya nobles — about four dozen men, women and children — were discovered in May at the site of what was once Cancuén. The city, located in what's now Guatemala, was one of many Maya centers abandoned around 800, the time of the massacre.

"There are many things strange and fascinating about these burials," says team leader Arthur Demarest of Vanderbilt University in Nashville.

Thirty-one bodies, the largest group, were buried in a cistern near the central pyramid. They still wore the jewelry — jades, jaguar-fang necklaces and seashells — and clothing that marked them as rulers.

A Guatemalan team that has exhumed modern mass graves worldwide was called in to help handle the remains. Demarest and colleagues suggest the Maya massacre victims belonged to a ruling family and were assassinated by their conquerors.

The discovery provides more evidence that the city, littered with half-finished walls and spear points, was under siege in those days.

"Archaeologists have known about some rather gruesome activities before at Maya locations," says archaeologist David Friedel of Southern Methodist University in Dallas, who was not on the discovery team.

But, he adds, "The Cancuén massacre of nobility is an exceptionally dramatic example of the violence marking the end of royal court life and divine kingship."

The body of the slain ruler of Cancuén, Kan Maax, still wearing an identifying necklace, was found in a nearby shallow grave with the remains of his queen.

Another dozen bodies of slain nobles were found a few miles away. Cancuén had a 6-acre pyramidal palace blanketed with hundreds of huge stucco sculptures and craftsmen's workshops, along with cisterns that supplied water to commoners during the dry season.

Demarest believes that trade rivals of the kingdom from further down the Paison River conquered Cancuén and bumped off its rulers to establish their dominion. After the conquest, the site was abandoned amid long-term drought and warfare.

However, archaeologist David Webster of Penn State University says that inter-dynastic squabbles also were a common occurrence in that era, which might also explain the massacre. "There were only so many positions open for king then, and things could get pretty vicious," he says, adding that he doubts trade in the region was extensive enough to justify an assault on Cancuén.

"In the end, there was not enough water to support any political system, hence the reason for abandoning centers," she says by e-mail.

The National Geographic Society, which funds the Cancuén exploration along with the Ministry of Culture of Guatemala, the National Science Foundation and others, will air a documentary detailing the massacre discovery, Explorer: Last Days of the Maya, on the National Geographic Channel on Sunday, Nov. 27 (8 p.m. ET/PT).

CSI: Guatemala?

Guatemalan archaeologists Sylvia Alvarado and Tomas Barrientos were excavating a cistern near the Cancuén palace in May when they realized it held thousands of human bones from dozens of bodies.

The archaeology team asked the Forensic Anthropological Foundation of Guatemala to investigate. Its scientists, trained to investigate war crimes in places like Rwanda and Afghanistan, were invaluable, says team leader Arthur Demarest. "And I think they were happy to work on a grave that didn't involve culprits who were still at large."

Commenting on the find

"The Cancuén massacre of nobility is an exceptionally dramatic example of the violence marking the end of royal court life and divine kingship in Classic Maya civilization.

"That collapse period witnessed a shift from conquest accompanied by selective sacrifice of rulers and some family members aimed at imposing an outside authority to extermination of governments all together. This general pattern unfolded over a century in the southern lowlands, with some hold-outs desperately experimenting with the trappings of legitimacy and others steadfastly defending ancient traditions.

"In the end, the sacrifice of the kings and their courtly worshippers spelled death for the civilization over which those sacred people had presided for more than a thousand years. The Maya people went on, and continued to have civil society, cities, and large populations elsewhere in their world, but the heartland of the southern lowlands never again recovered greatness."

—David Friedel, professor of anthropology at Southern Methodist University

I wonder if they were the Mayan Illuminati.


If they were, maybe history will repeat itself.


PMEmail PosterAOL

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Posted: Apr 12 2006, 04:26 PM
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strange NO interesting YES

PMEmail Poster

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Posted: Apr 13 2006, 07:40 AM
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I seem to recall that evidence of a similar massacre was found at Copan, burnt timbers and a pit full of bones, but I may be confusing it with Cancuen. The overthrow of a theocratic elite resulting from pressures brought on by diminishing resources seems highly plausible. There are likely some here who could see possible parallels in our own times.LOL!

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