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Researchers find evidence of ceremonial offerings beneath Maya ballcourt

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Archaeologists from the University of Cincinnati have found ceremonial offerings beneath a Maya ballcourt in Mexico.

Using environmental DNA analysis, researchers were able to identify a collection of plants used in ceremonial rituals in the ancient Maya city of Yaxnohcah.

The plants, known for their religious associations and medicinal properties, were discovered beneath a plaza floor upon which a ballcourt was built.

Researchers said the ancient Maya likely made a ceremonial offering during the ballcourt’s construction.

“When they erected a new building, they asked the goodwill of the gods to protect the people inhabiting it,” UC Professor David Lentz said. “Some people call it an ensouling ritual, to get a blessing from and appease the gods.”

The research was carried out through Mexico’s National Institute of Anthropology and History in collaboration with researchers from the University of Calgary, the Autonomous University of Campeche and the National Autonomous University of Mexico.

Researchers from 2016 to 2022 worked at Yaxnohcah in Campeche about 9 miles north of the border of Guatemala, where they excavated a small area of a ballcourt.

The ancient Maya played several ball games, including pok-a-tok, which has rules similar to soccer and basketball. Players tried to get a ball through a ring or hoop on a wall.

UC Professor Emeritus Nicholas Dunning said when buildings were expanded or repurposed, as with the ballcourt, the ancient Maya made offerings to bless the site. Archaeologists sometimes find ceramics or jewelry in these offerings along with plants of cultural significance.

“We have known for years from ethnohistorical sources that the Maya also used perishable materials in these offerings, but it is almost impossible to find them archaeologically, which is what makes this discovery using eDNA so extraordinary,” Dunning said.

Ancient plant remains are rarely discovered in tropical climates, where they decompose quickly. But using environmental DNA, researchers were able to identify several types known for their ritual significance.

They discovered evidence of a morning glory called xtabentun, known for its hallucinogenic properties, lancewood, chili peppers and jool, the leaves of which were used to wrap ceremonial offerings.

Botanist and UC Associate Professor Eric Tepe said finding evidence of these plants together in the same tiny sediment sample is telling. He has studied modern plants in the same forests once traveled by the ancient Maya.

“I think the fact that these four plants which have a known cultural importance to the Maya were found in a concentrated sample tells us it was an intentional and purposeful collection under this platform,” Tepe said.

Researchers noted the challenge of trying to interpret a collection of plants through the opaque lens of 2,000 years of prehistory. But Lentz said the findings help add to the story of this sophisticated culture.

Researchers believe the ancient Maya devised water filtration systems and employed conservation-minded forestry practices. But they were helpless against years-long droughts and also are believed to have deforested vast tracts for agriculture.

“We see the yin and yang of human existence in the ancient Maya,” Lentz said. “To me that’s why they’re so fascinating.”

Header Image Credit : Atasta Flores Esquivel and David Lentz

Sources : PLOS ONE | Psychoactive and other ceremonial plants from a 2,000-year-old Maya ritual deposit at Yaxnohcah, Mexico. https://doi.org/10.1371/journal.pone.0301497

This content was originally published on www.heritagedaily.com – © 2023 – HeritageDaily

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Archaeology

Study reveals new insights into life at “German Stonehenge”

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Excavations of the Ringheiligtum Pömmelte, nicknamed the “German Stonehenge”, has revealed new insights into domestic life from prehistory.

Ringheiligtum Pömmelte is a late Neolithic/Early Bronze Age henge from the late third millennium BC. The monument features seven concentric rings made of palisades, ditches, and raised banks, each containing a series of wooden posts.

The site was discovered in 1991 through aerial photography near the present-day village of Pömmelte in Saxony-Anhalt, Germany.

From 2018 to 2022, archaeologists have excavated nearly 140 ancient dwellings dating from 2,800 BC to 2,200 BC. The older dwellings are linked to the Corded Ware and the Bell Beaker culture, while the more recent ones are associated with the Únětice Culture.

In a recent study conducted by the State Office for Monument Preservation and Archaeology (LDA) of Saxony-Anhalt, archaeologists are employing various scientific methods to offer new insights into the site’s ritual and settlement landscape.

The study has identified house locations of the Corded Ware culture (26th to 23rd century BC), and an associated settlement pit containing ceramic sherds, an axe head and flint blades. Until now, Corded Ware settlement could only be attributed to individual finds that had been relocated, and not to actual structures on the site.

Also associated with the Corded Ware culture is a storage area with 78 grain silo pits that held various types of gain, including wheat, barley, and spelt. Archaeologists already know that Corded Ware people lived on a balanced diet with animal products, further indicated by drinking vessels from burials at Ringheiligtum Pömmelte that contained traces of dairy products.

While the scientific analyses and the interpretation of the results with various specialists continue, excavations at Pömmelte will last until mid-July 2024.

Header Image Credit : Shutterstock

Sources : State Office for Monument Preservation and Archaeology Saxony-Anhalt

This content was originally published on www.heritagedaily.com – © 2023 – HeritageDaily

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Archaeology

3,400-year-old shipwreck found with cargo mostly intact

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Archaeologists from the Israel Antiquities Authority Marine Unit have discovered a 3,400-year-old shipwreck with the cargo mostly intact.

The site was first identified during an underwater survey by Energean, an energy company searching for natural gas deposits beneath the Mediterranean Sea Floor.

This led to the discovery of the shipwreck and its cargo at a depth of 1.8 kilometers, along with its cargo that consists of Late Bronze Age Canaanite storage vessels.

IAA archaeologists, in collaboration with Energean, have used the deep sea exploratory vessel, “Energean Star” to conduct a visual inspection of the wreck site. This has revealed hundreds of ceramic vessels on the seabed, and a muddy layer which likely conceals a second layer and the wooden beams of the ship.

Jacob Sharvit, Head of the Israel Antiquities Authority Marine Unit, explains, “The ship seems to have sunk in crisis, either due to a storm or to an attempted piracy attack – a well-known occurrence in the Late Bronze Age. This is both the first and the oldest ship found in the Eastern Mediterranean deep sea, ninety kilometres from the nearest shore.”

Image Credit : IAA

Only two other ships from this period have been found – the boat from Cape Gelidonya and the Uluburun boat; both found off the Turkish coast. Both ships were found near the shore, suggesting that shipping routes followed the coastline between ports. However, this new discovery changes the understanding of ancient marine trade, demonstrating that ancient shipping also extended into deep waters.

“The ship is preserved at such a great depth that time has frozen since the moment of disaster – its body and contexts have not been disturbed by human hand (divers, fishermen, etc.); nor affected by waves and currents which do impact shipwrecks in shallower waters,” added Sharvit.

Header Image Credit : IAA

Sources : Israel Antiquities Authority

This content was originally published on www.heritagedaily.com – © 2023 – HeritageDaily

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