Tag Archives: Central America

Two New Mayan Cities Were Just Uncovered in the Jungles of the Yucatan

From about 2000 BC all the way up until the arrival of Europeans in the 16th and 17th century, the Mayan civilization thrived in the Yucatan peninsula of Central America.

The Maya were an extremely advanced society with a deep knowledge of science, mathematics and astronomy.

They had charted the movements of the moon and planets accurately enough to predict predict celestial events like eclipses hundreds of years before the heliocentric model was even accepted in Europe (in the 16th century).

A map of the two largest ancient civilizations in Central America. Click to enlarge

Now, a team of archaeologists from the Research Center of the Slovenian Academy of Sciences and Arts has uncovered the ruins of two new Mayan cities buried deep in the thick vegetation of the Yucatan jungle.

The first is technically a re-discovery. In the 1970s, American archaeologist Eric Von Euw stumbled upon the ruins of the ancient city of Lagunita while journeying through the Yucatan.

The city was marked by a massive facade entrance designed to look like the opening jaws of the traditional Mayan “earth monster”.

The facade entrance: “It represents a Maya earth deity related with fertility. These doorways symbolize the entrance to a cave and, in general, to the watery underworld, place of mythological origin of maize and abode of ancestors,” said expedition leader Ivan Sprajc. Click to enlarge (Photo: Ivan Sprajc)

Von Euw documented the facade along with a number of other stone monuments in a series of sketches, but unfortunately he didn’t keep an accurate log of his travels. Once he left, nobody was ever able to locate Lagunita again.

That is, until Ivan Sprajc (who led the recent expedition) and his team of archaeologists came upon a facade that seemed to match the one in Von Euw’s sketches.

After comparing the facade as well as other stone monuments in the area, the team confirmed that they had indeed re-discovered Lagunita.

Expedition leader Ivan Sprajc. Click to enlarge (Photo: INAH)

At the Lagunita site, the team found the remains of massive, palace-like buildings arranged around four courtyards. The site also included,

“A ball court and a temple pyramid almost 65 ft high also stood in the city, while 10 stelae (tall sculpted stone shafts) and three altars (low circular stones) featured well-preserved reliefs and hieroglyphic inscriptions,”

according to Discovery News.

Lagunita covered 54 acres across what is now the Mexican state of Campeche. Its large size suggests that the city served as a seat of government between 600-900 AD.

The remains of the temple, now overrun by vegetation. Click to enlarge (Photo: Ivan Sprajc)

Unlike Lagunita, the second city was a brand new discovery. The city was called Tamchen, which means “deep well” in the ancient Yucatec Maya language.

The name is fitting. Tamchen is pock-marked with more than 30 bottle-shaped underground chambers known as chultuns, used main to collect rainwater.

The opening to one of the chultuns. Click to enlarge (Photo: Ivan Sprajc)

Though Tamchen may have been founded a few years earlier, archaeologists say that both cities were probably thriving around the same time, making it likely that they regularly interacted with one another.

“Both cities open new questions about the diversity of Maya culture, the role of that largely unexplored area in the lowland Maya history, and its relations with other polities,”

said Sprajc.

Hopefully these new discoveries will give us a better understanding of what life was like in one of history’s most advanced ancient civilizations.

Read the full story from Discovery News here.

Watching Cocoa Bean Farmers Taste Chocolate for Their First Time Really Puts Life In Perspective (Video)

The Ivory Coast is the largest producer of cocoa beans in the world, exporting around 1.6 tons of the beans annually.

After being shipped off to other countries, the dried beans are crushed into cocoa powder and mixed with sugar and other ingredients to produce what we know as chocolate.

However, almost none of the farmers who actually grow and harvest the cocoa beans in the Ivory Coast have ever even tasted the delicious  final product.

So, the Dutch broadcasting company VPRO decided to give that experience to a few cocoa farmers. Check it out in the amazing video below:

Cocoa has been cultivated for centuries in Central America, but it is actually a relative newcomer to the continent of Africa. The plant was first introduced to Africa in the mid-17th century by Europeans who had acquired a taste for cocoa after arriving in South America.

Despite this fact however, Africa now dominates production, producing almost 70% of all the cocoa beans in the world. The bulk of this comes from the Ivory Coast, who produces 40% of the world total.

In Africa, almost 90% of cocoa production happens on small plots of 5 hectares or less (~12.5 acres). Worldwide, more than 20 million people rely on cocoa bean production for their livelihoods.

So next time you’re enjoying that chocolate bar, take a second to think about the unheralded people whose hard work made it possible.

BONUS: If you found it strange that the farmers didn’t know cocoa beans were turned into chocolate, check out this follow-up video that VPRO made showing how few people in the Western world know where chocolate comes from.

Apparently A Bag of Doritos Will Bring Out Every Raccoon In Town (Video)

Raccoons get a bad rap sometimes. They’re often seen as masked garbage bandits,  siphoning through our trash and then disappearing back into the night.

But the truth is, raccoons are just a very versatile and adaptable species. They’re opportunistic with their feeding, and as humans settles in their historical environments, our garbage became one of the easiest ways to find a meal.

Many raccoons have also learned that sometimes humans will do this crazy thing where they actually give away food (silly humans) to raccoons. It seems that the raccoons in the video below have developed a particular taste for Doritos.

Disclaimer: Pardon the brief profanity right at the beginning, the camerawoman clearly couldn’t control her excitement lol:

In the wild, raccoons are solitary creatures that actually snag most of their food from the water. Their lightning-quick reflexes and dexterous paws allow them to snatch up crayfish, frogs and other aquatic creatures.

Raccoons will also eat fruits, plants and, of course, our leftovers. Their adaptability has allowed them to thrive throughout North America from southern Canada all the way down through Central America.

You can learn more about raccoons from National Geographic here.


This Animal Isn’t A Snake. Think You Can Guess What It Really Is? (Photos)

Professor Daniel Janzen, a biology professor from the University of Pennsylvania, has spent years of his life cataloguing and photographing a very unique group of creatures: caterpillars that defend themselves against predators by looking and acting like snakes.

Check out some more pictures of “Snake Caterpillars” taken by Professor Janzen below:

Snake caterpillars can be found in Costa Rica, Guatemala, Belize, and some parts of Mexico. Their markings resemble a snake’s head, which they can actually use to “strike” at would be predators (though they obviously can’t bite like a real snake would).

Janzen is an ecologist and what most would call a caterpillar expert. He’s been tracking these insects in Costa Rica since 1978 and  has been an expert in the field of entomology (the study of insects) for 50 years.

Dan Janzen, with a prehensile-tailed porcupine on his shoulder (Photo: Winnie Hallwachs / NOVA)

He splits his time between his labs and the field, spending half the year at the University and the other half in Central America, searching for strange new species of insect like the snake caterpillars.

Ecuador Volcano Erupts and Emits Beautiful Ash Plume

A volcano in Ecuador, known as Tungurahua, erupted Friday, leaving behind a very beautiful ash plume.

In the local Quechua language “Tungurahua” means “Throat of Fire”. This is a suitable name for Tungurahua, a volcano located south of Ecuador’s capital Quito.

According to BBC,

“The volcano has been erupting since 1999, but has been particularly active in the last two months.Tungurahua is one of eight active volcanoes in Ecuador, which lies in the so-called Pacific Ring of Fire.”

The eruption fortunately did no major damage and also created a spectacular ash plume that was estimated to be up to 6 miles high. Check Out some great pictures below of the eruption in action.


Acacia Trees Turn Ants Into Addicts to Use Them for Protection

It was long thought that the relationship between ants and the acacia trees in Central America was simply a mutualistic one- the ants get food in the form of nectar and in exchange the trees get protection from harmful weeds and hungry animals. But a study led by Martin Heil of Cinvestav Unidad Irapuato in Mexico has discovered that the trees actually force the ants into servitude by chemically addicting them to the nectar and simultaneously making it impossible for the ants to digest other sugar sources.

Here’s how it works. Most of what ants consume is high in the sugar sucrose, but an enzyme known as invertase is necessary to break this sugar down during digestion. Heil was able to show in 2005 that all of the worker ants on the acacia tree lacked this key enzyme. Heil discovered that this was as a result of an enzyme released by the tree, known as chitinase, which completely blocks the invertase enzyme in the ants.

To make up for this lack of invertase in the ants, the acacia produces this digestive enzyme in its nectar. So, the ants who have lost their internal invertase can only digest nectar from the acacia tree because it is the only available food source with invertase in it. Pretty clever trees I’d say.

To read more, check out the link below: