There is an almost palpable sense of fear in this landscape

Tuesday, March 12th, 2019

New evidence suggests that the “peaceful” Maya fought bitter wars:

In February 2018, National Geographic broke the story of the PACUNAM LiDAR Initiative, a sweeping aerial survey of some 800 square miles (2,100 square kilometers) of the Maya Biosphere Reserve in northern Guatemala. Using revolutionary laser technology, the survey revealed the long-hidden ruins of a sprawling pre-Columbian civilization that was far more complex and interconnected than most Maya specialists had supposed.

Mayan Ruins in Jungle

“You could walk over the top of a major ruin and miss it,” says Thomas Garrison, an Ithaca College archaeologist who’s part of the PACUNAM project. “But LiDAR picks up the patterns and makes the features pop out with astounding clarity.”

Three-dimensional maps generated by the survey yielded surprises even at Tikal, the largest and most extensively explored archaeological site in Guatemala. The ancient city was at least four times bigger than previously thought, and partly surrounded by a massive ditch and rampart stretching for miles.

Mayan Ruins via LIDAR

“This was surprising,” says Houston, “because we had a tendency to romanticize Maya warfare as something that was largely ritualized and concentrated toward the end of the civilization. But the fortifications we’re seeing now suggest an elevated level of conflict over centuries. Rulers were so deeply worried about defense that they felt the need to invest in all these hilltop fortifications. There is an almost palpable sense of fear in this landscape.”


  1. Adar says:

    Maya practiced a lot of human sacrifice the victims usually prisoners of war. See Apocalypto.

    Depending on what tribe American Indians at war most of the time. Such is my impression.

  2. Graham says:

    The timeframe eludes me, but time was that archaologists/anthropologists seemed to push the line that the Maya civilization was either always peaceful, or so peaceful for so long that was another paradigm for humanity altogether.

    I don’t recall exactly when the wind shifted, but probably not much before the 1990s at least in what was getting out to a general audience.

    The pattern has also recurred with neolithic Europe and the Middle East. It occurred in the past wrt aboriginal cultures elsewhere in the Americas and in Australia.

    I believe the professions are still holding out that the pre-Indian civilization of the Indus valley was still entirely peaceful with no evidence for armies or warfare among its members or with neighbours. But based on the track record when studying these other civilizations, I expect this thesis to crumble as well.

  3. Kirk says:

    The academics are always pushing the fantasy that we’re sadly fallen from ancient days of peace and harmony. Which, I fear, is a side-effect of the sort of people who are attracted to the academy, most of whom are not at all practical people who have lived in the real world, or who want to. That’s why so much that they do is akin to building castles in the air, like so many fairy kings.

    Wishful thinking and prejudice that today is the worst we’ve ever been is what drives a lot of these people, and their scholarship reflects this face. I think that a hugely beneficial thing for the world would be to break up the ivory towers of academia, and ensure that the people who live in them have to come out and experience real life, before they start to render advice and teach others. Same with politicians–You shouldn’t be able to make a career at that until you’ve done something else successfully in life. The carpet-bagging career political operatives like Jay Inslee are a plague upon us all, and should never have been allowed to happen. No success doing other things? No political authority should ever be placed in your hands.

    It’s like Marx: What the hell did that lunatic ever actually do in life? What was he, other than a political theorist and an overall parasite? Can someone point to a lasting legacy, a successful company that he ran, or anything else besides his lurid fantasies of class murder? Did he ever even run so much as a fan club, or a political party? What were his practical achievements in life? What performance-based evidence is there that anything he ever did was successful, outside of raising up revolutionaries?

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