Scientists use new methods to discover what's inside drug containers used by ancient Mayan people.
- Archaeologists used new methods to identify contents of Mayan drug containers.
- They were able to discover a non-tobacco plant that was mixed in by the smoking Mayans.
- The approach promises to open up new frontiers in the knowledge of substances ancient people consumed.
Ancient Mayans have been a continuing source of inspiration for their monuments, knowledge, and mysterious demise. Now a new study discovers some of the drugs they used. For the first time, scientists found remnants of a non-tobacco plant in Mayan drug containers. They believe their analysis methods can allow them exciting new ways of investigating the different types of psychoactive and non-psychoactive plants used by the Maya and other pre-Colombian societies.
The research was carried out by a team from Washington State University, led by anthropology postdoc Mario Zimmermann. They spotted residue of the Mexican marigold (Tagetes lucida) in 14 tiny ceramic vessels that were buried over a 1,000 years ago on Mexico's Yucatan peninsula. The containers also exhibited chemical traces of two types of tobacco: Nicotiana tabacum and N. rustica. Scientists think the marigold was mixed in with the tobacco to make the experience more pleasant.
"While it has been established that tobacco was commonly used throughout the Americas before and after contact, evidence of other plants used for medicinal or religious purposes has remained largely unexplored," said Zimmermann. "The analysis methods developed in collaboration between the Department of Anthropology and the Institute of Biological Chemistry give us the ability to investigate drug use in the ancient world like never before."
The scientists used a new method based on metabolomics that is able to pinpoint thousands of plant compounds, or metabolites, in residue of archaeological artifacts like containers and pipes. This allows the researchers to figure out which specific plants were utilized. The way plant residue was identified before employed looking for specific biomarkers from nicotine, caffeine, and other such substances. That approach would not be able to spot what else was consumed outside of what biomarker was found. The new way gives much more information, showing the researchers a fuller picture of what the ancient people ingested.
PARME staff archaeologists excavating a burial site at the Tamanache site, Mérida, Yucatan.
The containers in the study were found by Zimmerman and a team of archaeologists in 2012.
"When you find something really interesting like an intact container it gives you a sense of joy," shared Zimmermann. "Normally, you are lucky if you find a jade bead. There are literally tons of pottery sherds but complete vessels are scarce and offer a lot of interesting research potential."
The researchers are negotiating with various Mexican institutions to be able to study more ancient containers for plant residues. They also aim to look at organic materials possibly preserved in the dental plaque of ancient remains.
Check out the study published in Scientific Reports.
Archaeologists suggest this may have been the Americas' "oldest hotel."
- Scientists have found ancient tools as well as plant and animal remains in a high-altitude cave.
- The site is dated to 30,000 years ago, pushing back estimates of the first humans to arrive in the Americas by 15,000 years.
- There is no sign these mysterious people remain in the modern gene pool.
The stunning discoveries recently made in northern Mexico's Chiquihuite Cave raise more questions than they answer. Even so, they change the conversation: The Clovis people who arrived 15,000 years ago in the Western Hemisphere were not the first people here as previously believed. The 30,000-year-old tools and animal remains of Chiquihuite Cave belonged to someone else. We have no idea who, but they were gone for thousands of years by the time the Clovis culture began.
"For decades people have passionately debated when the first humans entered the Americas," says co-study lead DNA scientist Eske Willerslev of St. John's College, University of Cambridge. "Chiquihuite Cave will create a lot more debate as it is the first site that dates the arrival of people to the continent to around 30,000 years ago — 15,000 years earlier than previously thought."
A game-changing puzzle
Image source: Ciprian Ardelean/St. John's College, University of Cambridge
Inside the high-altitude cave some 9,000 feet above sea level, archaeologists found almost 2,000 stone tools. The scientists also found plant and animal remains at the site that radiocarbon dating identified as being from 25,000 to 30,000 years ago. One of the paper's first authors, geneticist Mikkel Winther Pedersen of the University of Copenhagen, says, "We identified DNA from a wide range of animals including black bears, rodents, bats, voles and even kangaroo rats."
So, whose tools and animals were they? The researchers have no idea, since no human remains were found in the cave. This suggests the site was not a permanently occupied settlement, but instead a place that people used only periodically. "These early visitors didn't occupy the cave continuously," says Willerslev. "We think people spent part of the year there using it as a winter or summer shelter, or as a base to hunt during migration. This could be the Americas' oldest ever hotel."
Ardelean says that perhaps the most important thing is who they don't seem to have been, based on the style of tools that were found: the people of the Clovis culture. "We don't know who they were, where they came from or where they went. They are a complete enigma. We falsely assume that the indigenous populations in the Americas today are direct descendants from the earliest Americans, but now we do not think that is the case.
Image source: Devlin A. Gandy/St. John's College, University of Cambridge
The time to which the Chiquihuite Cave specimens date mean people were there during the Last Glacial Maximum — this was a time when continental ice sheets were at their maximum size, making northern Mexico seriously cold. Ardelean says, "There must have been horrible storms, hail, snow." Nonetheless, the archaeologist, who worked the site for 10 years and even spent months living in the cave, tells Nature that it's well-insulated and would have provided adequate shelter.
Exploring Chiquihuite Cave
While the excitement in archaeology typically derives from findings constructed bit-by-bit from the painstaking collection of artifacts, the excavation of the difficult-to-reach Chiquihuite Cave was an exceptionally charged experience. The cave is located in a region of Mexico controlled by drug cartels, and the safety of the scientists was by no means assured.
"It was an unforgettable experience," recalls Pedersen. "It is a very unsafe place to travel, so we were accompanied by Mexican police officers in armored cars to the foot of the mountain. We left before sunrise to climb up to the cave so that we weren't spotted."
Says Willerslev, "I will never forget being part of this research, it was an unbelievable experience. The implications of these findings are as important, if not more important, than the finding itself. This is only the start of the next chapter in the hotly debated early peopling of the Americas."
A migration-route deal-breaker
Image source: Sarah Cervantes/Unsplash
The first few pages of that next chapter may be a companion paper published by two of the study's contributing authors — Lorena Becerra-Valdivia of the University of New South Wales and Thomas Higham from the University of Oxford. It contains a statistical model of early human settlement of the hemisphere based on the Chiquihuite Cave and 41 other archaeological sites in North America, as well as Beringia, a region of eastern Siberia and western Alaska. Its authors also factored in historical climatic evidence and genetics. Their model presents a history in which humans were in North America far earlier than the previously accepted date of 15,000–16,000 years ago. That the model is based on sometimes ambiguous data from so many sites inevitably means that its conclusions are likely to be controversial, but it is in any event a worthwhile contribution to the discussion.
The model also supports the Costal Migration Hypothesis that visitors traveling the continent during the glacial maximum would have had to hug the coastlines to avoid the ice sheets atop inland areas.
So, whoever these early humans were, what happened to them? Geneticist David Reich of Harvard Medical School in Boston, Massachusetts tell Nature, "There continues to be no convincing genetic evidence of a pre-15,000-years-ago human presence in the Americas." Ardelean, for one, is not dissuaded by this. He proposes that these early populations simply didn't survive long enough to contribute to the modern gene pool. He says, undeterred, "I definitely advocate for the idea of lost groups."
Ardelean concludes, "The peopling of the Americas is the last holy grail in modern archaeology. Unconventional sites need to be taken seriously, and we need to go out and intentionally look for them. This site doesn't solve anything, it just shows that these early sites exist. We are dealing with a handful of humans from thousands of years ago, so we cannot expect the signals to be very clear. We have literally dug deeper than anyone has done in the past."
Researchers discover a massive ceremonial structure of the ancient Mayans using lasers.
- Archaeologists used laser-based aerial surveys to discover the oldest and largest Mayan structure ever found.
- The 3,000-year-old complex in the Mexican state of Tabasco was likely used as a ceremonial center.
- Researchers believe the site represents a communal society rather than one based on worshipping elites.
The southern tip of Mexico is hiding a giant Mayan structure from about 3,000 years ago, new research shows. The nearly one mile-long monument may be the oldest and largest ever found from the mysterious civilization. An accomplishment of this magnitude is making scientists rethink what they know about the knowledge of the ancient Mayans.
The site, known as Aguada Fénix, was discovered in the state of Tabasco, near the Gulf of Mexico. The complex, likely used as a ceremonial center and a place of gathering, was essentially hiding under the feet of modern-day Mexicans who live above the massive structure. It's 4,600 feet (1,400 meters) long and likely dates to between 1000 and 800 BCE. That time period, specifically, the year 950 BCE, also produced another Mayan site, known as Ceibal, which was previously considered the oldest-ever ceremonial center.
While potentially being even older, Aguada Fénix is also much larger and incomparable to anything else from that time, concluded the archaeologists led by University of Arizona professors Takeshi Inomata and Daniela Triadan.
"To our knowledge, this is the oldest monumental construction ever found in the Maya area and the largest in the entire pre-Hispanic history of the region," the researchers wrote in their study.
The research uncovered the secret of Aguada Fénix, which looks like a natural landscape above, via aerial surveys using the remote sensing method LIDAR. The analysis, which had laser beams sent from planes through the thick canopy of trees, showed an elevated platform that's almost a mile (1,413 meters) north to south, a quarter-mile (399 meters) east to west, and as much as 33 to 50 feet (15 meters) high. The platform also has nine wide causeways leading away from it, as well as small structures and artificial reservoirs around it.
"Artificial plateaus may be characterised as horizontal monumentality, which contrasts with the vertical dimensions of pyramids," explained the archaeologists. They connect the look of Aguada Fénix with what is known as the Middle Formative Usumacinta (MFU) pattern, distinct for its rectangular shape and rows of low mounds.
Another interesting find relates to the lack of statues shaped like humans in the ancient settlement. The scientists think this points to the fact that the society that lived there had no "clear indicators of marked social inequality, such as sculptures representing high-status individuals." In fact, the only stone sculpture they discovered in the area was of an animal.
This type of social organization, which was possibly less hierarchical and more communal, would be in great difference to other ancient people who inhabited the region like the Olmec from the nearby state of Veracruz. Their culture is known to have produced colossal stone heads.
"This kind of understanding gives us important implications about human capability, and the potential of human groups," Inomata shared, adding "You may not necessarily need a well-organised government to carry out these kinds of huge projects. People can work together to achieve amazing results."
Check out the new paper "Monumental architecture at Aguada Fénix and the rise of Maya civilization" published in Nature.
While building a new airport, construction crews uncover a gigantic collection of ancient bones.
- During digging for a new airport in Mexico, workers came across three sites containing the remains of mammoths, as well as some pre-Spanish human burial sites.
- It's unclear why the mammoths were all found in this one spot, though it may have to do with an ancient lake.
- Retrieving this massive sample will likely give experts new insights into a long-lost North American pachyderm.
In the Mexico Basin about 45 miles north of Mexico City in the Santa Lucía region, the new Felipe Ángeles Airport is under construction. According to Mexico's National Institute of Anthropology and History (INAH), workers there have dug up a massive surprise: a trove of 60 ice-age mammoth skeletons. They've also unearthed 15 pre-Hispanic human burial sites.
Image source: Sergiodlarosa/wikimedia
The pachyderm bones belong to Colombian mammoths, Mammuthus columbi, who last lived in North America in the Pleistocene epoch between 2.6 million and 13,000 years ago, when they are believed to have become extinct. They're the mammoths that visitors to Los Angeles' La Brea Tar Pits encounter. (No woolly mammoth remains were found in Santa Lucía.)
It's not yet known how many of the mammoth skeletons are complete. It is clear, though, that males, females, and their young are there. The bones are being found between 80 centimeters and 2.5 meters below the surface and spread across three exploration areas. First discovered in October 2019, the digs are still being stabilized and undergoing analysis and classification, according to INAH National Coordinator of Archaeology, Pedro Francisco Sánchez Nava.
How 60 mammoths wound up together in death at this location is an interesting question. No signs of human tracks leading to or from the site are evident nor have any indications of hunter accommodations have been found. By contrast, the prehistoric mammoth hunting site discovered in the Mexican municipality of Tultepec in November 2019 does exhibit such signs of human interaction.
Archaeologists suspect the 60 mammoths got stuck in a muddy swamp over time — the site is near the shores of the former Lake Xaltocan. Researchers say the most complete skeletons found are those close to the former lake's shoreline. It remains possible that the immobilized mammoths were then preyed upon by hunters even without clear evidence of that so far.
Once the remains are retrieved, they'll be studied by a team of 30 archaeologists, supported by a trio of restorers, to make a full account of what's been found. They hope to learn more about how and precisely when the animals lived, ate, and what health issues they may have had as evidenced in their skeletal remains.
An old home, a new home
Image source: Instituto Nacional de Antropología e Historia
Meanwhile, construction of the new airport continues. Says Salvador Pulido Méndez, director of INAH Archaeological Salvage, "So far, no findings have been recorded on the land that lead to the rethinking of the construction site, either totally or partially. Rather, the works have allowed INAH a research conjuncture in a space where, although it was known of the existence of skeletal remains, they had not had the opportunity to locate, recover and study them."
Prior to the beginning of construction, the Santa Lucía region had been used by the Santa Lucía Military Air Base, and the national defense organization Sedena has preserved its historic Santa Lucía hacienda, integrating it within the new airport. The various parties involved plan to create a museum within the hacienda that will allow visitors to learn about the Santa Lucía region and its amazing mammoth mammoth graveyard.
Trump said USMCA is "the most important trade deal we've ever made by far."
- The new agreement is between Canada, Mexico and the U.S.
- It's more of an updated version of NAFTA than a new agreement.
- The deal includes changes to trade terms and policies in sectors like dairy, auto manufacturing and intellectual property rights.
In a last-minute agreement, Canada, Mexico and the U.S. have tentatively agreed to revisions of the 24-year-old North American trade deal. This new agreement, according to President Donald Trump, effectively replaces NAFTA with USMCA, which stands for the U.S.-Mexico-Canada agreement.
Trump said USMCA is "the most important trade deal we've ever made by far."
"We have successfully completed negotiations on a brand new deal to terminate and replace NAFTA and the NAFTA trade agreements with an incredible new U.S.-Canada-Mexico agreement," Trump said at Rose Garden news conference, adding that "it will transform North America back into a manufacturing powerhouse."
The U.S., Canada and Mexico are expected to sign the agreement at the end of November, though it will require legislative approval from all three countries. U.S. lawmakers are expected to vote on the deal in 2019, and it's unclear whether it would pass if Democrats take control of the House next month.
Here are some key parts of USMCA:
US President Donald Trump after a phone conversation with Mexico's outgoing President Enrique Pena Nieto on trade on August 27. The new deal was made just hours before the October 1 deal deadline.
(Photo: MANDEL NGAN/AFP/Getty Images)
The new agreement would take effect in 2020. Under the terms, the three countries would meet every six years to review and potentially renegotiate the deal, which would last 16 years, at which time the countries could agree to extend it.
To encourage more localized car manufacturing, the new deal requires 75% of a car's parts to be produced in Mexico, Canada or the U.S. in order for automakers to avoid tariffs. That's an increase of about 12% compared to NAFTA.
In addition, nearly one-third of automobile manufacturing in the three countries must be done by workers earning an average production wage of $16 an hour.
Canada will open up its dairy market slightly by allowing American farmers to export about $560 million worth of dairy products. Canadian farmers criticized the move, but it's a general win for the U.S.
"The deal includes a substantial increase in our farmers' opportunities to export American wheat, poultry, eggs and dairy, including milk, butter, cheese, yogurt and ice cream," the president said Monday. "Those products were not really being treated fairly as far as those who worked so hard to produce them, and now they're going to be treated fairly."
Canadian officials had said the U.S. was at fault for producing too much dairy products.
The new deal features stronger restrictions on copyright infringement. It says that internet service providers (ISPs) shouldn't be held directly responsible when their users or companies traffick in pirated content—so long as they cooperate with copyright owners and law enforcement.
The agreement says there should be "legal incentives for Internet Service Providers to cooperate with copyright owners to deter the unauthorized storage and transmission of copyrighted materials or, in the alternative, to take other action to deter the unauthorized storage and transmission of copyrighted materials," the agreement reads, adding that ISPs can obtain legal protection (or 'safe harbor') by "adopting and reasonably implementing a policy that provides for termination in appropriate circumstances of the accounts of repeat infringers."
Ultimately a win for Trump
Replacing NAFTA has long been a goal for Trump, who's called the longstanding trilateral deal a "disaster." And even though USMCA is more of an updated version of NAFTA than a completely new deal, the president arguably scored a few victories, and possibly some more supporters among American farmers and auto workers, by reaching the agreement just hours before Sunday night's deadline.
Still, USMCA will likely have little effect on the president's ongoing trade conflicts with China.
"We'll see what happens with China," Trump said. "We don't have a deal with China. There is no deal. They do whatever they want."