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Maya ritual cave ‘untouched’ for 1k years stuns archaeologists (nationalgeographic.com)
269 points by yawz 49 days ago | hide | past | web | favorite | 102 comments



"Explorers needed to crawl for hours just to reach first of seven offering chambers"... followed by a shot of one of them, flat of his stomach, clawing at the surface and just barely squeezing through, head turned sideways.

I am not a claustrofobic person, but this is... damn... this feels suicidal. Makes you realize that some people are wired way differently than others.

Edit - https://imgur.com/EHrwHs3.jpg


I once got so claustrophobic just by reading a book about caving that I had to put it away: Blind Descent by James Talbot. It describes the quest of a couple of maniacs to explore the deepest caves on earth under hellish circumstances. No light for weeks, no communication with the surface, camping against vertical walls in the dark, hurricane level winds, tight sumps full of dark water, disease, panic attacks... Man, who in his sane mind does things like that?


The parent comment has a typo in book author name. The book is actually "Blind Descent: The Quest to Discover the Deepest Cave on Earth" by James M. Tabor.

https://www.amazon.com/dp/0812979494

(Curiously, Google search for "James Talbot Blind Descent" points to this very Hacker News thread.)


Reading this feels as claustrophobic. This description gave me anxiety... and it's third hand information. Maybe I need therapy.


> who in his sane mind does things like that?

The usual estimation is that 5% of the population is insane, and I guess they do fill a purpose :)


I remember reading that book! There were lots of deaths in those expeditions. As the author said, "supercave" exploration is like extreme mountaineering, but even more dangerous and complicated.


Honestly it's this kind of thing that really makes me marvel at the human brain. Most people see 'the grass is greener' as meaning that you will always want what you don't have.

I see it as meaning that you can honestly get used to anything, given enough time. It's inspiring really, when I'm at my worst and darkest times, to think - hey, if someone can deal with being tortured for years and get through it, I can make it through this.


> if someone can deal with being tortured for years and get through it, I can make it through this.

I understand what you're saying, but being tortured for years leaves physiological and psychological scars that never go away.

William Sampson, A Canadian who was tortured for 31 months in Saudi Arabia, died at 52 after suffering four heart attacks in six months.[1]

Three of these were after the torture ended.

[1] https://www.thestar.com/news/insight/2012/04/01/william_samp...


An experienced caver buddy of of mine tells stories about doing chest compressions to get through really small spaces. You know, because the hole is too small for you to pass through with lungs full of air. So you exhale it all and hope there's space ahead for you to breath in again.

No thanks, man. I'll stick with kayaking.


Reading this gave me a mild panic attack. That just seems mad. I'm very glad there are people who are not affected by or have overcome fears to go and do these things though :)


When I was kid I did some splunking, and squeezing through narrow spaces, especially with even a bit of water running near your mouth which is common = 100% hated it. Don't splunk at ALL anymore. Diving in cynotes in mexico though is stunning - so still have enjoyed doing that.


Running water in a place like that makes me double nervous. A sudden shower breaks out while you're in the cave and a path like that can flood out in an instant.


Caving can be incredibly fun as well, tight squeezes can come with the territory but there's plenty of horizontal walking/borehole opportunities. It is pretty geographically dependent.

This one always gets me a bit:

https://gfycat.com/responsibleboweddalmatian-exploration-cav...

I'm wondering if there's not a second entrance or something that sumped and connects, in the US some tracks are a mile or so back but several hours? Sounds significant.


It's funny - I've only caved a bit, but I watch that video and think "wow that looks fun." There's something so exciting about getting right up to the edge of what's possible for a human to do.


I know what you mean, I went through a fairly simple cave except for ~90 feet with 3 90 degree turns in between which required me to be completed stretched out (Superman style) and push with only my toes/fingertips. It was terrifyingly exhilarating.


when I was a kid a crawled into half collapsed etruscan tombs often (which in hindsight was not a good idea) and it felt ok but this video gave me instant claustrophobia.

It's incredible that people can do this as a hobby :)


I’m going to have nightmares after seeing that gif. How can these people be ok with that?


Also, does the notion of eventually needing to turn around never stymie them?


That's why the send the cameraman first.


Cave exploration is sometimes like that

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=FAY-t32vyds


Yeah, I've seen this one. This is an "alternative entrance" to a decently-sized cave with a normal access elsewhere off camera.

That's not to say there aren't examples of some truly disturbing spelunking - https://i.imgur.com/BkmpH9v.jpg



I saw that picture and read up more on the story a while back... absolutely horrifying situation. Stuck upside down underground for hours, unable to move or escape even though there are others right behind you that you can communicate with until you eventually die. Somewhat unrelated, but that is part of what made me decide to not further pursue my cave diving certification


Damn that's frightening. They need semi-autonomous robots (spider-like?) to crawl ahead with a camera before going head-first into a place like that.


That image is simply terrifying.


Some people are even claustrophiles. Isaac Asimov was a famous one. Being in tight spaces makes them feel safe, although being actually stuck may not have the same effect.


Thanks for giving me a word that describes my instinct. I do tend to prefer small spaces.

This said, there are limits - in places like that caving gif upthread, I'd freak the hell out.


And the Maya didn't have LED headlamps with lithium-ion batteries, either.

They went in there with torches.


I was going to say this. I mean, we freak out at the idea of doing it now. Imagine some guy 1000 years ago who found a crevice... in the dark... and decided to crawl through it. That... both impresses and terrifies me.


Now overlay that with the belief that your are literally descending into the underworld.[1]

It must have made for a very transformative experience.

[1] https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Xibalba


What bothers me about pictures like that isn't so much having to cram through the tight space. It's the cave collapsing and being squished to death with a 0% chance of survival.

Do other people who are semi-claustrophobic fear the literal tight place, or dying from something going wrong that's out of your control? The same thing applies to heights. I have no problem with heights at all but ladders bother me a lot because I'm always thinking the ladder will fail at any second.


I did some spelunking as a teen (lived in an area with 100+ caves), and you sometimes heard about stone blocks ramming down with climbing speleologists in large underground halls, higher levels of carbon dioxide preventing breathing or sudden flash-floods preventing escape. Not so much about sudden cave collapses (I guess in earthquake areas that's always a possibility).

When I was in the dark, squeezing through tiny holes in various angles, I felt a bit like having an "out-of-body" experience, where my brain visualized my whereabouts in some kind of 3D map and internally I was looking at the whole 3D map "from outside"; like viewing an autonomous robot making its moves. It was quite fascinating. I guess sensory deprivation allowed the "3D mapping signal" to be perceivable and dominant.

Also, given there is no smell inside caves, if you spend a few hours/days inside, then climb back to surface, upon entering ground you are hit by a wall of smells you never perceived before. Suddenly you can distinguish individual flowers, trees, grass, soil etc. That however only lasts a few seconds :-(


Your visualization experience sounds very interesting!

I actually believe it is possible to consciously 'do' what you describe to at least some degree. It would be nice to hear more about your experience in detail, may I ask you some questions?

Was it as vivid and sharp as daylight open eye view or was it rather blurry / fuzzy?

Where the colors saturated or rather gray?

Was every action instant or was there a time lag?

Did the shapes stay stable or did they deform or fade after a time [of no new inputs (from touch I guess)]?

What did it look like to touch a wall?

How would you describe the field of view you had in your visualization? Normal? All-Round-View onto the 3D map?

Did you have a feeling for the volume where the field of view of your body would be?

How did you visualize your body? Abstractly or more like you might look in daylight?

Could you move as observer in your visualization or was that out of your control?


Well, it's not like I didn't perceive stuff with my eyes, it's just that I also internally had another view (I still have some fragments fairly vivid in memory), where I could kinda rotate my view, e.g. being inside a tunnel with irregular slopes hinting at some abyss through cracks at the bottom and I viewed it inside as a certain irregular shape I could rotate, localize me (where "me" was some uncertain blob and my pose was how my body was reporting to me, but my overall shape was just fuzzy/unimportant) and do some planing. As for colors, again unimportant, not sure if there was even a concept of color in my internal representation. Actions as such were instant, but the feedback was basically tactile/otolithic, updating my location/pose estimate. FOV was variable, changing as I needed and as I moved inside visualization. It might have been inspired by some speleology mapping tools that at the time started to become 3D, so my brain might have used a similar representation.

I guess it was really dampened sensory inputs, not dominating perception as usually, that allowed this kind of planing/internal model to come out. Without spelunking I'd probably use it only subconsciously in sports like when hitting a tennis ball at 120mph and planning all moves in advance, serving a sneaky ball in volleyball etc. I had a similar feeling once when a car that was joining my road almost rammed into me and I just remember that my brain switched to 100% focus and almost automatically did all the crash avoidant tasks where I felt more like an observer, and the calculation was perfect (i.e. no crash).


Thank you that was a very interesting read. It sounds similar to how I imagined it.

Sometimes I ask myself if this is similar to how blind people visualize their world. I remember reading from Hellen Keller (deaf-blind from birth) that she also had a visual representation of the world around here. Something along the lines of the human brain is just build for this kind of representation.

I think that there is some common underlying representation that everyone uses. When seeing something through the eyes this representation is overlayed with salient visual sensor input in eye fov and our internal fov just focuses on this for convience and because it is so damn salient. I think it is possible to detach the internal fov from the eye fov and see how the brain models the other regions.

Your suggestions that sensory deprivation brings out the underlying internal representation is very intersting. It makes a lot sense! Really gotta try that sensory deprivation chambers some time =)


You live in a universe where astronomical events lightyears away can obliterate life on earth with no advance warning whatsoever. Being in control is an illusion.


The fact that all life on earth could theoretically be snuffed out without warning doesn't mean there aren't more mundane terrestrial factors that we can control, and should, assuming you're into things like comfort and survival.

Oddly, this reminds me of my mild fear of driving. I can't ignore the fact that at any moment while driving, I or anyone driving near me could apply a few paltry newtons of force in a way that causes massive injury and destruction, changing or ending lives. Every time I get behind the wheel, I have to wonder at how casually I'm about to pilot a huge mass at lethal speeds around hundreds of other people casually doing the same thing. There's nothing I can directly do to affect the mistakes of others, but I accept the risk of freak accident and resolve to do what I can to at least reduce the risk of disaster (drive defensively). Analogously, we all accept the (demonstrably small) risk of annihilation by, e.g., gamma-ray burst, and go about our lives.


> Being in control is an illusion.

It is a very useful illusion though. I take it as a sort of veneer that the brain hoists over our eyes to make day to day life bearable. There is some truth to the saying "Ignorance is a bliss".


Aw, this one's easy; the passage isn't even underwater! It's the flooded passages so narrow you have to take your scuba gear off and pull it behind you that are really terrifying.


Maybe not wired differently. It could be that they've gained knowledge and experience that makes this seem normal/safe.


A bit of a tangent but it never occurred to me before I went caving: The helmet keeps you safe from getting your head stuck.

It's slightly bigger than your head so if anything attached to your neck is going to get stuck, it'll be your helmet, which you can remove.


Actually, if you look at the pictures, it would seem the artefacts themselves a larger than the crack we see in your image.

That was mysterious to me until I saw the rather large electric lighting fixture on the cave floor. So there must be some larger passage somewhere.


So wait? Ancient people carried valuable things through those enormously inconvenient tiny little holes and then created small hoards deep in the caves?

Was there maybe an easier route that has fallen away through the centuries and this is what's left?

Or was there perhaps a religious belief here because honestly, if you were trying to hide things, burying stuff sounds just as effective and quite a bit less dangerous.


The fit may have been easier for them, due to:

1. Shorter / thinner stature compared to today's explorers 2. The caves having compressed / become narrower, even slightly, in the last 1000 years


Should they not be using remote-controlled drones first and 3D-map the tunnels first before going in with humans?


Cool idea, but what drone would you actually be able to use for spelunking?


That is the actual question: Why aren't there spider-like (or some other suitable form) drones by now, for exploring enclosed environments with uneven terrain? Or are there?


Nothing AFAIK. And that's not surprising to me; the locomotion requirements are very tough.

It has to be able to fit anywhere a small adult can fit. It has to be able to climb anything an adult can climb. There has to be a workable communication strategy (wirless, wired) through tunnels of solid rock. And it has to all that well enough not to need frequent retrieval.


I was born and lived for some time in the nearby state of Chiapas. Currently a coder working in a big city, fighting traffic and pollution every day, away from wife and kids, worrying about production issues, health, etc. When I see articles about discoveries like this it always brings me back to my childhood days driving around the Palenque ruins, seeing the miles and miles of hills which were obviously ruins that had become overgrown but that the government had yet to uncover. There are countless more discoveries like this just waiting in plain sight. Knowing that always gives me some kind of peace inside - what we know about ourselves and how we have evolved is very little.


"... We need wilderness preserved--as much of it as is still left, and as many kinds--because it was the challenge against which our character as a people was formed. The reminder and the reassurance that it is still there is good for our spiritual health even if we never once in ten years set foot in it. It is good for us when we are young, because of the incomparable sanity it can bring briefly, as vacation and rest, into our insane lives. It is important to us when we are old simply because it is there--important, that is, simply as an idea." - Wallace Stegner

Your comment reminded me of this excerpt of a letter to the American Congress about environmental preservation.


"Also, without it, all the insects die and the food chain collapses."


love it


> Segovia identified 155 artifacts, some with faces of Toltec rain god Tláloc, and others with markings of the sacred ceiba tree

It would be significant, because the Mayan version of this god is Chaac https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Chaac, and there's some speculation over who inherited the god from whom:

> Although the name Tlaloc is specifically Aztec, worship of a storm god like Tlaloc, associated with mountaintop shrines and with life-giving rain, is as at least as old as Teotihuacan and likely was adopted from the Maya god Chaac or vice versa, or perhaps he was ultimately derived from an earlier Olmec precursor. An underground Tlaloc shrine has been found at Teotihuacan.[4]

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Tl%C4%81loc

But my suspicion is that the archaeologist might have said something like "we found faces of Chaac, who is equivalent to Tláloc" (because Mexicans are much more familiar with Tláloc) and then it was mangled by the reporter.


I wish people would stop using the term Aztec because there are no Aztecs known to us. Aztec was the slave name of the mythical civilization that took part on the exodus. They are mexicas not Aztecs.


I found this paragraph really stunning -- But until the concept of cave archaeology began to take shape in the 1980s, archaeologists were more interested in monumental architecture and intact artifacts than they were in analyzing the residues and materials found in and around objects. When Balankanché was excavated in 1959, caves were still mapped by hand in the dark and artifacts were routinely removed from their sites, cleaned, and later put back. Of all the incense burners found in Balankanché that were filled with material that could have provided definitive evidence related to the chronology of the site, for instance, only one was ever analyzed.

Archaeologists essentially destroying archaeological information based on the inability to see/measure it. I have never met a scientist that came across a discovery and said, "Wow, this is a huge discovery and we're not even close to being equipped enough to process it correctly, lets just seal it up again and wait." But that was what happened here. It is so amazing to get the chance to look deeply into these things with more capable technology.


I have never met a scientist that came across a discovery and said, "Wow, this is a huge discovery and we're not even close to being equipped enough to process it correctly, lets just seal it up again and wait." But that was what happened here. It is so amazing to get the chance to look deeply into these things with more capable technology.

Yet, I read a lot of archeology books in my former days and almost all of them said modern archeology is founded on digging test pits and strips, to avoid complete site exposure unless circumstances demand it, since future science will be able to exploit the un-disturbed state of the site to do better science.

Archeologists do the LEAST digging possible nowadays. Its the norm to leave it the hell alone, not the exception.


> Archeologists do the LEAST digging possible nowadays

Surely "LEAST" would be doing only non-invasive sensing, and rescue digs? Many digs still aren't.

> digging test pits and strips, to avoid complete site exposure

And oh, the care taken when digging and refilling pits, to minimize, for instance, the impact on the site microbiome... err, the site microwhatsit? Picture the careful brain surgeon, picking out his dropped bits of pepperoni and cheese, licking them off his greasy fingers, patting the cranial flap down, and beaming proudly.

Archeologists celebrating their standard of care... while being largely unfamiliar with even the current states of research in genomics, remote sensing, computer analysis, robotics, and much else, let alone their forseeable futures... Yes, jewler's pics are better than miner's pickaxes, careful troweling than careful dynamiting, and hand-held DLSR visual-light photos better than hand-held sketchbooks... but by how much? Compared to what's coming over the next hundred years?


> Surely "LEAST" would be doing only non-invasive sensing, and rescue digs? Many digs still aren't.

You're nitpicking and you know it.

>> digging test pits and strips, to avoid complete site exposure

> And oh, the care taken when digging and refilling pits, to minimize, for instance, the impact on the site microbiome... err, the site microwhatsit? Picture the careful brain surgeon, picking out his dropped bits of pepperoni and cheese, licking them off his greasy fingers, patting the cranial flap down, and beaming proudly.

This is a shit comparison, and you know it.

> Archeologists celebrating their standard of care... while being largely unfamiliar with even the current states of research in genomics, remote sensing, computer analysis, robotics, and much else, let alone their forseeable futures... Yes, jewler's pics are better than miner's pickaxes, careful troweling than careful dynamiting, and hand-held DLSR visual-light photos better than hand-held sketchbooks... but by how much? Compared to what's coming over the next hundred years?

This part is kinda incomprehensible but it seems like you're being critical of how archaeologists apply innovative tools and methods in their work. You don't know, however, that archaeologists are arguably the most interdisciplinary researchers you can imagine, and use methods from all sorts of other fields to address questions of archaeological concern. There is (in my experience, anyway) lots of care to apply these methods in ways that are ethical, in ways that are respectful towards local communities, and in ways that meet the practical constraints that archaeology faces (rugged terrain, slow pace, low funding, limited timeframe, non-reproducible data collection, coordination of methodologically-diverse projects, etc). No tool is recognized to be useful in its own right, it has to be adapted to suit the circumstances and goals of archaeological projects.


> I have never met a scientist that came across a discovery and said, "Wow, this is a huge discovery and we're not even close to being equipped enough to process it correctly, lets just seal it up again and wait."

This is pretty much exactly what happened with the tomb of the Qin First Emperor, a site of obvious historical importance in a country with extreme respect for history.

And I'm given to understand that it is now standard practice elsewhere to try to leave most of a site buried, so that future archaeologists with better technology may be able to dig in the more pristine part.

So archaeology has certainly developed in this direction, probably through the experience of wanting to test new techniques on old sites and not being able to. I'm not sure why this concept would apply to "scientists" in general, though. If you're looking for facts about the present, you can't really contaminate them by investigation.


And though their source[1] does not quite back Wikipedia on this particular sentence, let me just the that the idea has at least been written about, in the case of Göbekli Tepe[2] (in the south-east end of Turkey):

less than 5% of the site has been excavated, and Schmidt planned to leave much of it untouched to be explored by future generations when archaeological techniques will presumably have improved

[1] http://www.smithsonianmag.com/history-archaeology/30706129.h...

[2] https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/G%C3%B6bekli_Tepe


Most of all, I hope they'll find some books in there. Only four books have survived [1], beyond some highly damaged works which need serious improvement in CT technology (or other tools) so that we can read them, if they can be read at all.

[1]: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Maya_codices


This is so painful to read.

From the Bishop who oversaw the destruction:

"We found a large number of books in these characters and, as they contained nothing in which were not to be seen as superstition and lies of the devil, we burned them all, which they regretted to an amazing degree, and which caused them much affliction."

I can barely imagine the anguish those people must have felt. Imagine witnessing the destruction of your entire recorded history. Virtually all of the knowledge and art produced by the civilization wiped out in a single act.


It's like that one time we decided to do a rewrite... without tests.


Sealed up for 50 years after it was discovered is one of the greatest gifts to modern archeology ever. I can't fathom the loss of truly insightful historical knowledge that would have been lost if it was tampered with 50 years ago. What a hero to the future of humanity in understanding our past.


Wouldn't sealing it up another 50 years even better? We don't know which much better technologies we have in 50 years


Speaking as an outsider, I grew up near Hispanic cultures in the Southwest. I think there’s a need for better information about the Maya. For one, there’s a basic lack of understanding of time “before America” across the US. Most I've met seem to operate as though human history in the Americas only started with independence. The colonists wiped out a huge amount of history and culture. We might not have the best technology that could ever exist, but we do have a great need to appreciate a shared past. Fifty years from now people will be further from the past and more likely to take it even less seriously.


@ianai you should give the book 1491 a read, it is likely exactly what you're looking for and a well written book:

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/1491:_New_Revelations_of_the_A...


This is a general issue with what is taught as world history, from school textbooks to the doorstops of Toynbee and his ilk. They all start with "western Europe and the societies derived from it are the world" with a brief mention that China is over there, too, and then trace the history of the societies that western European mythology claims as predecessors (Rome, Greece, Egypt). If you compare this to the space and time occupied by humanity on earth, it's ludicrous.


I feel this way about technical debt sometimes :)

There has to be some point where you start on something otherwise in 50 years they would be wondering about the tech available 50 years from that.


If you ignore technical debt for 50 years there’s a good chance the problem will resolve itself! Because no one will be using the software.


Is that why he sealed it up, the article doesn't explain that was his logic. Are you finding this info somewhere else?


It's not so much about the technology as much as the attention and care that can be given to the findings. Even in the past, most material treated with the utmost care and respect would have "survived" (in the sense that it wouldn't have lost a huge amount of precious hints about its true nature).

Postwar times in South America were... complicated, particularly the '60s. A responsible archeologist, be it Pinto or someone else, likely made an assessment that the country was not ready to pay this material the case and attention that it deserved, and decided to simply protect it by leaving it where it was. This happens elsewhere all over the world - in Italy, ancient findings are routinely re-buried when its care cannot be guaranteed for some reason. The practice was a bit less common back then, but not an impossibility - particularly for an already-established archeologist who didn't need more accolades.


Something is weird.

> After its initial discovery by farmers in 1966, Balamku was visited by archaeologist Víctor Segovia Pinto

Segovia Pinto reportedly died in 1955, according to this source: https://translate.google.com/translate?hl=&sl=es&tl=en&u=htt...

1955 was 11 years before the reported discovery. Either there is a typo somewhere, or Pinto was not the original discoverer. Pinto was a bit of a celeb at the time, so it's entirely possible that someone erroneously attributed to him what happened in 1966, or that the discovery happened before but was only recorded in 1966.


Probably a bad source or typo. This one, from a university, says he died in '95 on a specific day and place. https://revistas-filologicas.unam.mx/estudios-cultura-maya/i...


Here is a publication he supposedly authored in 1981:

https://books.google.nl/books?id=bHcgCwAAQBAJ&lpg=PA198&ots=...


Maybe his father?


I don't know anything about this team, but the ideal procedure would be minimal disturbance of this site, with minimal removal of artifacts from the site. Organic material for carbon dating, great.

There are several principles that one mist follow. Archeology is a destructive science: you can't dig the same pit twice, you can't remove artifacts a second time. So the first principle is: document everything, and destroy as little as you can. The second principle is that you must proceed with respect for the living Maya, who may well regard this adventure as a violation of a holy site of their ancestors.


In the slideshow in the article, it says this:

> The local Maya still revere the caves, and shamans make special offerings to the spirit guardians of Balamku and ask for the protection of the scientists who are exploring it.

Seems they're respecting and coordinating with the local living Maya.


thank you for pointing that out to me. I did not look through slides.


My undergraduate education was in archeology at UCLA. I did an honors thesis analyzing Classic Period Mayan burial remains. I've also excavated Mayan sites in Belize. I stand by what I said, despite perverse HN downvotes.


It's good that you have knowledge to contribute here. And I understand how provocative downvotes can be. Nevertheless, please follow the site guidelines (https://news.ycombinator.com/newsguidelines.html). That's actually just why we have that guideline.


Well put, I second this!


Do you own your ancestors?


Clarify what you mean and I might answer the question.


Your previous answer seems to presume that there are groups of people to whom other groups of people are ancestors, and the first have special rights over anything that happens to the artifacts/remains of the second, I was trying to break down how you think about that. Eg. how do you identify the first and second groups unambiguously, and what sort of rights and limits apply.


What’s so puzzling? It’s a Mayan site so it belongs to the Mayans. They have full rights, even if that means preventing the study of it to non-Mayan archeologists. Simple.


I'm curious about how they decide this is a religious site. The artifacts have images on them, but that can't be the only indicator of why they were there can it? Why build pyramids and other things above ground but then make people crawl deep into a hole to have a small religious site? Isn't it more likely people of lower status were forced to live underground and this is their stash of valuables? - to give just one possible alternate interpretation. How do they decide what a site is?

I'm sure they take into account all the other knowledge that has been gathered over the years and put this find in context. That's largely missing from the article.


"Religious site" always seems like a cop-out to me, like saying "we don't know what this was used for, must have been a religious site", but since I'm not an archaeologist or historian, I have to trust that the people who actually are those things know what they're doing and know how to determine if something truly was a religious site or not.


Yes. I have the same reaction when I see an old site called a 'temple'. Who -knows- what the frame of mind was of a culture thousands of years ago (particularly if nothing's written)? Often it seems like just another way of implying 'pre-scientific', 'magical', 'savage'... less-developed than us.

A more -practical- explanation seems more plausible in many cases. E.g. Gobekli looks -educational- to my eyes; I see multiple classrooms.


Here's a quote from Macaulay's Motel of the Mysteries for you: "The clustering of hundreds of monumental inscriptions mounted on huge poles along both sides of a highway was quite common. Each inscription represented a different religious sect or point of view and was placed as near as possible to heaven." (Section 1, The Motel of the Mysteries, p. 12)


You're not the first to question this. In other forums I've seen people state that archaeologists have a tendency to say ritual whenever they're not sure of something.

If it can be properly dated then it's unlikely regular people were living under a pyramid. But if it can't then it might as well be refugees taking shelter in the mayan ruins after its civilization collapsed.


Valuable objects; difficult to reach; no resources for living (dark, cold; no food or water). All point to having a very good, very impractical reason for going there. Religion fills the bill very nicely?


Sounds like a stash of stolen goods to me. And that's actually a practical reason for going there. OTOH religion wants to be accessible to the people. They build temples and such to draw people in, not make them crawl into a deep scary hole where they have a pile of random stuff.


Some religions are about secrets, not persuasion.

Mithraism was a popular underground (literally) religion among the Roman army. And the Hebrews weren’t about letting people traipse through the holy of holies.

I agree that religion is probably overused in these explanations, but it’s plausible.


Folks hide valuables too - for fear of their being stolen. And rituals often have special places for the initiated, excluding the public. So not a slam-dunk that's its stolen stuff.


The article mentions incense too.


So some of those objects appear much too large to fit thru the narrow places to get into the cave. How did they get there? Were they made in place?


> some researchers have suggested that excessive deforestation in the Maya lowlands, which was once home to some 10-15 million people

I just can't quite get over this stat they dropped in here. 15 million people in ~250 AD puts it in the same neighborhood as ancient Greece at their peak a few hundred years earlier.


I hope they preserve at least some of it instead of escavating it


Doctor June Moone's cave


thx. learned.


Maya mia!




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