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Monday, 8 November 2021

Rare 1,100-year-old Maya canoe is found submerged in a freshwater pool in southern Mexico along with a human skeleton, knife and mural painting

 A remarkably well-preserved Maya canoe — built for use some 1,100 years ago — has been found in a freshwater pool, or 'cenote', in the Yucatán, southern Mexico.

The wooden artefact — more than five feet in length — was found near the ruined city of Chichen Itza by Instituto Nacional de Antropologia e Historia experts.

The archaeologists believe that the canoe was likely used either to aid in extracting water from the cenote, or to help deposit offerings there during rituals. 

Alongside the canoe, the pool and adjacent water bodies yielded other finds — including a human and ceramic skeleton, and a hand mural on a rock ceiling.

This mural appears to be significantly older than the canoe, dating back to the Maya Late Postclassic Period, which ran from 1200–1500 CE.

Additionally, the researchers explained, the discoveries of a sculpted stone stela, ritual knife and 40 broken vessels indicate that the cenote was long a site for rituals.

A remarkably well-preserved Maya canoe (pictured) — built for use some 1,000 years ago — has been found in a freshwater pool, or 'cenote', in the Yucatán, southern Mexico

A remarkably well-preserved Maya canoe (pictured) — built for use some 1,000 years ago — has been found in a freshwater pool, or 'cenote', in the Yucatán, southern Mexico

The archaeologists believe that the canoe was likely used either to aid in extracting water from the cenote (pictured), or to help deposit offerings there during rituals

The archaeologists believe that the canoe was likely used either to aid in extracting water from the cenote (pictured), or to help deposit offerings there during rituals

Alongside the canoe, the pool and its surrounds have yielded other finds — including a human and ceramic skeleton, as well as a mural of painted hands on a rock ceiling. Pictured: the researchers explore underground at the cenote site

Alongside the canoe, the pool and its surrounds have yielded other finds — including a human and ceramic skeleton, as well as a mural of painted hands on a rock ceiling. Pictured: the researchers explore underground at the cenote site

Additionally, the researchers explained, the discoveries of a sculpted stone stela, ritual knife and 40 broken vessels (like that pictured) indicate that the cenote was long a site for rituals

 Additionally, the researchers explained, the discoveries of a sculpted stone stela, ritual knife and 40 broken vessels (like that pictured) indicate that the cenote was long a site for rituals

THE CANOE: STATS 

Length: 5.2 feet (160 centimetres)

Width: 2.6 feet (80 centimetres)

Height: 1.3 feet (40 centimetres)

Age: Estimated at 1191–1071 years

Material: Hardwood 

Provenance: Yucatán, Mexico'It is evident that this is an area where ceremonies were held,' said the Instituto Nacional de Antropologia e Historia archaeologist Helena Barba Meinecke.

This is discernible, she explained, 'not only because of the intentionally fragmented pottery, but also because of the remains of charcoal that indicate their exposure to fire and the way they placed stones on top of them to cover them.'

Furthermore, Ms Barba Meinecke noted, the fact that the pottery remains come in various different styles dating from different time periods indicates that the site was used for rituals over the course of many centuries.

'The relevance lies in the fact that it is the first canoe of this type that is complete and so well preserved in the Mayan area,' she continued.

'There are also fragments of these boats and oars in Quintana Roo, Guatemala and Belize.'

The canoe dates back to the end of the classic period of Maya history which spanned from 830–950 CE, when the civilisation was still at its peak.

The discoveries were made as part of Tren Maya — or 'Maya Train' — an initiative from Mexico's President Andrés Manuel López Obrador to lay a high-speed intercity train line across the heart of the Yucatán peninsula.

The multi-billion-dollar construction effort has attracted a great deal of controversy, not only for its environmental impacts, but also for how the line cuts through regions rich in indigenous Maya culture and archaeological sites.

Nevertheless, the program has offered Instituto Nacional de Antropologia e Historia researchers an opportunity to preserve some of the history being uncovered along the Tren Maya route — with hundreds of burials and ceramic vessels already found.

'The construction of the Mayan Train constitutes an important research opportunity, through archaeological recovery,' the experts said in a statement.

Such excavations, they said, will allow them to expand our 'knowledge about the archaeological sites of the regions that the train will travel through.'

'It is evident that this is an area where ceremonies were held,' said the Instituto Nacional de Antropologia e Historia archaeologist Helena Barba Meinecke. Pictured: the researchers take measurements within the cenote site

'It is evident that this is an area where ceremonies were held,' said the Instituto Nacional de Antropologia e Historia archaeologist Helena Barba Meinecke. Pictured: the researchers take measurements within the cenote site

The ritual nature of the cenote site is discernible, Ms Barba Meinecke explained, 'not only because of the intentionally fragmented pottery, but also because of the remains of charcoal that indicate their exposure to fire and the way they placed stones on top of them'

The ritual nature of the cenote site is discernible, Ms Barba Meinecke explained, 'not only because of the intentionally fragmented pottery, but also because of the remains of charcoal that indicate their exposure to fire and the way they placed stones on top of them'

'The relevance lies in the fact that it is the first canoe of this type that is complete and so well preserved in the Mayan area,' Ms Barba Meinecke continued. 'There are also fragments of these boats and oars in Quintana Roo, Guatemala and Belize.' Pictured: an artefact at the site

'The relevance lies in the fact that it is the first canoe of this type that is complete and so well preserved in the Mayan area,' Ms Barba Meinecke continued. 'There are also fragments of these boats and oars in Quintana Roo, Guatemala and Belize.' Pictured: an artefact at the site

With their initial study complete, the team will now be collaborating with experts from the Sorbonne University in Paris, France, to more precisely date and analyse the wood making up the canoe. 

Alongside this, the researchers have plans to produce a three-dimensional digital model of the vessel based on photographs — one which can be independently analysed and from which replicas might be made for display in museums.

Back at the cenote, the archaeologists are also hoping to drill a borehole in the sediments underneath the site, from which they will be able to determine the nature of the environment at the time the canoe was in use.

Marks of the stone wall of the cenote, the team explained, has indicated that the water level at the site used to be some 16 feet lower than it is today. It was at this depth that the cave containing the canoe was found.

The wooden artefact — more than five feet in length — was found near the ruined city of Chichen Itza by Instituto Nacional de Antropologia e Historia experts

The wooden artefact — more than five feet in length — was found near the ruined city of Chichen Itza by Instituto Nacional de Antropologia e Historia experts

With their initial study complete, the team will now be collaborating with experts from the Sorbonne University in Paris, France, to more precisely date and analyse the wood making up the canoe. Pictured: the team perform painstaking excavations at the site

With their initial study complete, the team will now be collaborating with experts from the Sorbonne University in Paris, France, to more precisely date and analyse the wood making up the canoe. Pictured: the team perform painstaking excavations at the site

THE MAYA: A POPULATION NOTED FOR ITS WRITTEN LANGUAGE, AGRICULTURAL AND CALENDARS

The Maya civilisation thrived in Central America for nearly 3,000 years, reaching its height between AD 250 to 900.

Noted for the only fully developed written language of the pre-Columbian Americas, the Mayas also had highly advanced art and architecture as well as mathematical and astronomical systems. 

During that time, the ancient people built incredible cities using advanced machinery and gained an understanding of astronomy, as well as developing advanced agricultural methods and accurate calendars.

The Maya believed the cosmos shaped their everyday lives and they used astrological cycles to tell when to plant crops and set their calendars.

This has led to theories that the Maya may have chosen to locate their cities in line with the stars.

It is already known that the pyramid at Chichen Itza was built according to the sun’s location during the spring and autumn equinoxes.

When the sun sets on these two days, the pyramid casts a shadow on itself that aligns with a carving of the head of the Mayan serpent god.

The shadow makes the serpent's body so that as the sun sets, the terrifying god appears to slide towards the earth.

Maya influence can be detected from Honduras, Guatemala, and western El Salvador to as far away as central Mexico, more than 1,000km from the Maya area.

The Maya peoples never disappeared. Today their descendants form sizable populations throughout the Maya area.

They maintain a distinctive set of traditions and beliefs that are the result of the merger of pre-Columbian and post-Conquest ideas and cultures.    

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