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pre-Columbian America


  • Originally published 06/28/2013

    First unlooted royal tomb found in Peru

    It was a stunning discovery: the first unlooted imperial tomb of the Wari, the ancient civilization that built South America's earliest empire between 700 and 1000 A.D. Yet it wasn't happiness that Milosz Giersz felt when he first glimpsed gold in the dim recesses of the burial chamber in northern Peru.Giersz, an archaeologist at the University of Warsaw in Poland, realized at once that if word leaked out that his Polish-Peruvian team had discovered a 1,200-year-old "temple of the dead" filled with precious gold and silver artifacts, looters would descend on the site in droves. "I had a nightmare about the possibility," says Giersz.

  • Originally published 05/01/2013

    New clues on origins of Maya civilization

    The Maya civilization is well-known for its elaborate temples, sophisticated writing system, and mathematical and astronomical developments, yet the civilization's origins remain something of a mystery.A new University of Arizona study to be published in the journal Science challenges the two prevailing theories on how the ancient civilization began, suggesting its origins are more complex than previously thought.Anthropologists typically fall into one of two competing camps with regard to the origins of Maya civilization. The first camp believes that it developed almost entirely on its own in the jungles of what is now Guatemala and southern Mexico. The second believes that the Maya civilization developed as the result of direct influences from the older Olmec civilization and its center of La Venta....

  • Originally published 04/23/2013

    Oaxaca temple complex hints at archaic Mexican state

    Much of what we know about past civilizations in Mexico comes from the writings of colonial Europeans -- Spanish conquerors and priests -- who arrived in the Americas in the 1500s. But archaeological evidence from recent excavations at a site called El Palenque in the Valley of Oaxaca, Mexico, shows that temple precincts similar to the ones the Europeans encountered had existed in the region some 1,500 years earlier.Married archaeologists Elsa Redmond and Charles Spencer, both of the American Museum of Natural History in New York, reported the discoveries Monday in the journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences. 

  • Originally published 01/31/2013

    Study rebuts hypothesis that comets destroyed Clovis culture

    Jan. 30, 2013 — Rebutting a speculative hypothesis that comet explosions changed Earth's climate sufficiently to end the Clovis culture in North America about 13,000 years ago, Sandia lead author Mark Boslough and researchers from 14 academic institutions assert that other explanations must be found for the apparent disappearance."There's no plausible mechanism to get airbursts over an entire continent," said Boslough, a physicist. "For this and other reasons, we conclude that the impact hypothesis is, unfortunately, bogus."In a December 2012 American Geophysical Union monograph, first available in January, the researchers point out that no appropriately sized impact craters from that time period have been discovered, nor have any unambiguously "shocked" materials been found....

  • Originally published 01/31/2013

    Aztec conquest altered Mexican genetics

    AUSTIN, Texas — For centuries, the fate of the original Otomí inhabitants of Xaltocan, the capital of a pre-Aztec Mexican city-state, has remained unknown. Researchers have long wondered whether they assimilated with the Aztecs or abandoned the town altogether.According to new anthropological research from The University of Texas at Austin, Wichita State University and Washington State University, the answers may lie in DNA. Following this line of evidence, the researchers theorize that some original Otomies, possibly elite rulers, may have fled the town. Their exodus may have led to the reorganization of the original residents within Xaltocan, or to the influx of new residents, who may have intermarried with the Otomí population.Using ancient DNA (aDNA) sampling, Jaime Mata-Míguez, an anthropology graduate student and lead author of the study, tracked the biological comings and goings of the Otomí people following the incorporation of Xaltocan into the Aztec empire. The study, published in American Journal of Physical Anthropology, is the first to provide genetic evidence for the anthropological cold case....

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