Wednesday, October 12, 2005

Los Sapos

Due to insomnia I was watching of all things the NASA channel on Comcast early this morning. A group of environmentalists and archeologists were extolling the virtues of their newly cooperative investigations with the space agency. An archeologist went into great detail about the impressive find in Guatemala of the Mayan site at San Bartolo, and how estimates about the age and sophistication of Mayan culture and its artistic and technical peak had been pushed back several hundred years in 2001 due to the discovery. Then he described numerous other sites found via NASA surveys of the jungle canopy in Central America--apparently the Mayan use of zinc plaster so affected the natural environment that trees which have grown over their cities and temples 2500 years later are chemically different, and this chemical difference is visible from space. Environmentalist were very interested in this evidence of lingering impact long after human settlement ended. They were also happy because they could take space shots of environmental degradation and deforestation to the locals in Central America and say "look at the effects." NASA had developed teams to work on similar projects elsewhere.

Last winter in Honduras we were amazed by the excavations at Copan, but most amazing to me were the thousands of un-excavated sites. Walking through the forest on the other side of the river from Copan to visit Las Sapos (a small group of frog carvings--one pictured above--renowned by the locals as a fertility shrine) we passed dozens of large and small mounds which were obviously structures that hadn't been excavated. Some of these were as high as four-story buildings, others were barely to my waist. Most had trees on them, many had been dug by looters. One member of our party knelt at one, dug for a matter of seconds, and unearthed a beautiful stone grotesque head.

I could spend a few years digging down does one get such a gig without another six years of school?