Friday, October 26, 2007

100% Correct!

Ladies and Gentlemen, I would like to take this opportunity to state that my blog entry from last week was 100% correct. I told you all that the sacbe-like structures emerging from the scrub-forest were quite possibly a form of boundary marker between the sites of Xtobo and Kintunich. I also said that in one week I would likely recant that conclusion. Well I stand before you today (or rather reach out to you via the netherworld of cyberspace) to tell you that I was right, I knew exactly what I was talking about. I can proudly say today that I have completely changed my mind as to the function of said sacbe-like structures. Of course they weren’t a boundary marker between Xtobo and Kintunich, how silly. (Now if only Dan would stop saying “I told you so.”)

What has brought about this revelation you may ask? Well, a fourth sacbe has been spotted beneath the burgeoning growth. It still has yet to be cleared off, but enough of it has been seen to state with some certainty that it forms a fourth side to our previously three sided square. This is a very unusual, if not unique, structure within the Maya world. What we have seems to be a four sided plaza, defined on each side by a low wide mound, looking very much like a sacbe. There are some gaps and holes in the defining edges, but we can’t quite explain why that may be just yet. The interior regions of the plaza continue to be largely empty, further confounding any reliable explanation as to the structure’s purpose. The word that seems to keep jumping from people’s tongues is market, and while it is certainly possible that this represents a defined market space, that is a very difficult concept to prove.

As my lovely sister-in-law has pointed out, I have been more than remiss in providing you all with pictures of Xtobo in action. I’m afraid that I do not have any pictures of Sacbe Mixtu’ux, or the other sacbe-like structures. I will need to take some for thoroughness’ sake, however, let’s just say that Xtobo is a bit camera shy. She is a beautiful, mysterious lady, but she is also very coy. She does not like to let the whole world see her charms, without paying the price of a personal visit. Or if you prefer the blunt description, its all a bunch of rubble covered in greenery that wont photograph worth a @!*&!#@^%@!*. Nevertheless, I have cobbled together some of the better images so far from this season. You can find them by following the link found below.

Friday, October 19, 2007

Yet Another King Arthur Reference…

So I’ve already covered Mark Twain’s A Connecticut Yankee in King Arthur’s Court. This week we shall move on to T.H. White’s Once and Future King. For those of you who have not read the former please see my earlier summary. As for the latter it is a marvelous modern retelling of Arthurian legend. When I read it, oh so many years ago, I was particularly struck by one passage. A young Arthur was being instructed in the ways of the world by a truly magical Merlin (if you will see the earlier entry Twain preferred Merlin as a charlatan) by turning him into different animals with the idea being that he would gain new perspective from these roles. Well in one passage Arthur was turned into a goose, and as he was flying around with the other geese, they informed him that they simply did not understand the wars of humanity. They fought and fought over boundaries of land, yet from the lofty view of the flying V the geese could see no lines on the ground making up these boundaries.

Despite the inability of the geese to see these lines, humanity in almost all of its forms has insisted that they exist. Typically they are not physically defined, although a few historic examples to the contrary do spring to mind. Well my ever increasingly addled mind has suggested that perhaps we have a particularly old example of delineated territory in the contexts of Xtobo. The so called sacbes, or raised causeways, of which I have been muttering about for the last two weeks, may in fact not be sacbes. Oh, they certainly look a lot like sacbes, but there are consistent and regular gaps in the structures, which doesn’t particularly make for a good road. Also there is of course that other previously mentioned problem in that they don’t really go anywhere.

Before we move on, let me rehash some information from the olden days of Costayuc. Located a mere 1.5 kilometers (or just under a mile) to the north of Xtobo’s central plaza, is the central plaza of another ancient Maya site named Kintunich. Now, there are quite few structures located in the intervening space, and the actual distance between the two sites may be no more than a few hundred meters, or in other words the sites are basically within shouting distance of one another. If they were both living vibrant communities at the same time, they would have been more than neighbors. Whether they really were occupied at the same time, I cannot say, but the information I do have at least suggests there is a decent possibility they were. But as we all know, we don’t always get along with our neighbors. Sure they are always the weird ones with obnoxious habits, and it’s clearly not our fault, but it is a problem none the less.

The former sacbes of Xtobo, now better referred to as … things, would not even begin to pass for true defensive walls, but may just have served as a manner of telling those snooty Kintunich neighbors just whose territory this was. (Or perhaps it was the other way around.)

But, we still await the clearing of some grid squares at Xtobo, and there is an almost certain chance that I will recant this explanation one week from today. Nevertheless, I hope that it will at least clear the air of those ever circling vultures that have lately been mistaking my intellectual musing for a creature who has lost hope in life and will certainly fall over soon to provide them with a hearty meal.

Saturday, October 13, 2007

Lost in the Woods

The more and more time we all spend in our cities, the more we forget which way is which. And I don’t suppose Google maps are really helping that scenario. But like most complaints referring to how great the good old days were, its all a bunch of rubbish. People are no ruder today then they were fifty years ago, and kids have always listened to something that really doesn’t qualify as music. And, 2500 years ago people had absolutely no idea which way was north, south, east, or west.

I know this, and can state it with great certainty, because I spend my days lost in the woods of Xtobo. I keep following this road, but it keeps turning, and winding, and splitting (yes now it has a fork in it). Every step along the way provides one with a wonderful sense of the majesty of the ancient Maya engineers. You can see the precise straight lines that they were able to manage with no more than the simplest tools. And the lines stretch to beyond the horizon (or for the next 10 feet, you choose). In the end it’s simple, we’ve discovered the answer behind Xtobo’s twisting winding road to nowhere. They were lost, plain and simple, lost. They hoped if they just kept piling up rocks then everything would come out all right in the end. We may never know the fates of the road building crew, did they ever make it home, were they spoken of in hushed whispers, or championed as heroes who never gave in despite their perpetual lost-ness? But we do know one thing, they can certainly give a boy a headache.

Perhaps by next week a clearing will be found, and we will be able to see the sun and the stars again. Until then Dan and I will be cheered by our new companion Emit, who has come to see the wonders of Xtobo. We’re not quite sure if he believes our tales of the old days when we drank two gallons of water in a day to stay dehydrated, but he nods and smiles kindly at us “old hands.” I could tell you all about what happened when the subim ants came visiting yesterday, but I suppose all rookies have their days.

Saturday, October 06, 2007

@#*!&@# Sacbe Mixtu’ux

So many of you who tune into the same Bat Channel at the same Bat Time each week are already familiar with the term sacbe. For those of you who are not, a sacbe is essentially a Maya road, or raised causeway. The Classic period Maya built many of these sacbes, particularly here in the north, one of which is more than 100 kilometers long. But not all sacbes were built to go between cities, many more were built as pathways between prominent structures within a site. Prior to this season seven such internal sacbes were known at Xtobo. There are five which connect with the site’s central plaza and radiate out to neighboring buildings. The two remaining sacbes were found in the northwestern periphery of the site. Now frankly these two “peripheral” sacbes have always been a problem. One ends somewhere near a relatively large architectural complex, but the three remaining sacbe ends were more or less floating in null space.

I have been greatly looking forward to reaching these sacbes in the mapping process, because neither has been properly cleared and mapped. Previously they have only been glimpsed through the excessive foliage, while I have tried to follow their course with no small amount of difficulty. Well this week I finally got to see the first of these sacbes begin to emerge from the forest. Things were going swimmingly until some more rubble was noted just past where the crew had identified the eastern end of the sacbe. At my urging the clearing continued, while I went back to mapping. Later in the day when I returned to check on the work I expected to find that the sacbe had petered on for another 10 to 15 meters and ended. I was disappointed. It would appear that the said rubble was actually the remains of yet another sacbe oriented to a different angle from its neighbor.

Now keep in mind we are still missing the typical large buildings or plazas for a sacbe to end at, now in addition we have a third sacbe that seems to go nowhere. Dan quickly christened this new sacbe as “Sacbe Mixtu’ux.” Now I’m sure all of my loyal readers will immediately assume that Dan chose that name in honor of this blog. After all he is an avid reader of it himself (despite being out at the site everyday), and let’s face it, he pretty well hangs on every word I say and never talks back or disagrees with me. However the name is a more than apt description of the sacbe in Maya and quickly won the approval of the boys from Ucu. Mixtu’ux is the word in Yucatec Maya for “nowhere.” Hence the sacbe has been christened “The Sacbe to Nowhere.”

Granted we haven’t finished the mapping, and perhaps we will still come across something that allows us to make some kind of sense out of these sacbes. Right now though, they are so very interesting to me, and at the same time so damned unfathomable that the arguments as to their nature have become an unending Mobius strip in my brain. Here’s hoping I can turn them off long enough to get some sleep this weekend!