While driving through Paso Caballos, Peten, we noticed that about 80% of the Q’eqchi’ Mayan houses had palm thatch roofs. Of these, an estimated 40% had tin lamina across the very top, but at least half the thatch huts had palm thatch all the way to the top, including the delicate crest area.
Guano palm thatch-roofed Q’eqchi’ Mayan house, Paso Caballos, Peten, facing the Rio San Pedro Martyr.
After driving and walking through the village with the local Q’eqchi’ Mayan guide, we could document that 100% of the thatch appeared to be guano palm (Sabal species). In other words, there was no junco “palm” here, and no corozo palm.
Several days later, while driving back to Guatemala City, we noticed that in the area of Candelaria Campo Santo that more than half the Q’eqchi’ Mayan houses here had corozo palm thatch roofs. But one house was of grass (Ak in Q’eqchi’). Since we wanted to reach Coban before dark, we did not walk around the settlement to see what other kinds or thatch we could find (we know many of the local people here since we have been spending weekends in this area for over six years).
So for architects and ethnobotanists who seek to study house architecture of the Maya, here are two places where you can find dozens of houses with the most common palm: guano in one village and corozo in another.
We have also found a town far away where at least 30% of the roofs are ak. In other areas a few are ak grass but most others palm.
Last year we found another town where most of the thatch roofs are junco “palm” (“ “ because junco is neither a true palm nor even a tree; but it looks identical to guano palm, until you see the flowers). In the same village of junco, other roofs are of corozo palm.
And we have found another settlement area where most of the roofs are palma real.
Although they are called “black panthers” in fact they are melanistic jaguars. The spots are still fully present (just hard to notice if the surrounding far is dark).
So black panthers (black jaguars) are natural and native to Guatemala (and to all the other parts of the New World where jaguars roam the rain forests).
We will be visiting a black panther this week and look forward to the experience.
Black jaguars come in “solid black” and gray (of various darknesses, depending on the DNA heritage). Even in “solid black” jaguars, the spots are still visible if you realize the spots are there. If you think it is a black panther, you will not notice the spots (until someone points them out).
Drawing by Josefina Sequen, Kakchiquel Mayan intern at FLAAR; both scientific illustrator and cartoon illustrator. Electronic drawing using pen tablet, based on photos available on the Internet (since black jaguars are rare in Guatemala).
Our storyboards show black panthers, gray jaguars, white jaguars, and regular jaguars to make the point that “species come in all colors, and to assume one color is king and the other color is not worthy is both egotistical and biologically not always accurate.”
A black panther is actually a melanistic jaguar, a jaguar with a special gene(s). All spots are fully present, but can only be seen in certain angles of light. Head tends to look the most solid black. We appreciate the hospitality of the staff at FAE (Fundacion Protectora de Animales en Vias de Extincion).
Since Flor de MAYO obviously blooms in May, we have been focusing on studying Plumeria species eco-systems most of May and June. We have been curious to see whether all Plumeria (in Guatemala) prefers dry desert-like regions (filled with cactus plants).
Now in July, about 50% of the trees (out in the wild) no longer have flowers, but enough still have flowers even in early July that we discovered wild Plumeria in a totally unexpected area of Guatemala: high elevation; lots of rain; no cactus plants anywhere nearby.
And these were wild plants, not house decoration.
We will have lots of information on Plumeria eco-systems available to botanists, students of biology, and people around the world who are interested in flowers (especially flowers of the Mayan-speaking areas of Mesoamerica).
Because J. Eric S. Thompson totally misunderstood Flor de Mayo flowers, and because he was totally unaware of true 4-peteled flowers for the origin of the Kin hieroglyph, we have been working to rectify the decades of mistaken identifications.
The Plumeria flower is also consistently mangled in most dissertations and monographs on the Lacandon Maya.
So for several years we have been out in the cacti and spiny Ceiba aesculifolia thorn forests of the most dry areas of Guatemala, to study Plumeria species. Plus we are also studying yellow, magenta, rose, pink, and dark red color Plumeria species varieties (which never grow wild in Guatemala; these are only in gardens around people's houses).
As soon as funding becomes available, we wish to produce a photographic monographic on Plumeria flowers and symbolism of Mesoamerica.
The leaves of this rare tree, Curatella americana, are used as sandpaper by the Maya people of Guatemala.
Other parts of the plant are medicinal, and other parts (bark) are used to fix colorants (from other plants) for dying native cloth.
By sheer luck, the day we arrived to inspect this chaparro tree, it was in its last days of giving clumps of flowers. The structure of the bud, flower, and growth of the seed pod are worthy of further botanical research.
Sorry it has taken two decades to find and scan these negatives. And we have still not found them all. We have an outstanding scanner (CreoScitex) and an experienced scanner operator (Cami). But no funds for scanning them.
Of course the images are several decades old, so a tad dusty. But not many people have had the patience to use high resolution cameras, and definitely no one has set up a "tripod" five meters up in the air, so we could photograph straight down onto the stela (which is on the ground).
It is traditional to turn a set of negatives into the Belize authorities as part of the project, and if they still exist we would be glad to scan them and give these scans to Belize. But in the meantime, we are still searching for all our negatives. We found about a dozen of them, so are scanning these as examples.
In the 1980's, with the support of capable Mexican archaeologists in both Campeche and Yucatan, of INAH, and Dr William Folan (who at that time was headquartered in Campeche), FLAAR initiated a project to encourage the restoration of the palace of Santa Rosa Xtampak by documenting the fragile status (in other words, to document clearly that unless the palace could be restored quickly, the major parts would collapse).
We used Leica and Hasselblad cameras to record at high resolution the remaining standing architecture. Plus we had recently acquired a 15mm wide angle lens for a Nikon. Some rooms were so narrow they required this kind of lens (fish eye is too distorted; 15mm or 17mm is less distortion). Today we would use a tilt-and-shift 17mm lens for a Canon.
We published four volumes plus Jack Sulak has at least one volume. We are now scanning all five reports to issue them as electronic PDFs. We are trying to locate the original negatives and scan them at high resolution. So far we have found only a dozen of the estimated 100 to 200 original photographs (but something is better than nothing).
During March and April we hope to make these dozen photographs available to students and scholars in Mexico via our web site.
The palace architecture and temples at Santa Rosa Xtampak have features of both Chenes architecture and potentially influence of Rio Bec style. In fact there are probably some traits shared with Puuc style: would be a good dissertation topic to tabulate all three styles using intermediate sites in Campeche, Mexico as examples. In other words, would be helpful to document which features of the palace and temple architecture of Santa Rosa Xtampak are shared with Chenes, which features are potentially influenced from Rio Bec ("towers" on front facades), and which aspects of masonry or size or shape of vaults are shared with Rio Bec.
This research is best done by scholars who have access to all the key sites and access to all the photo archives: Carnegie Institution of Washington, architect George Andrews, Gendrop, Karl Herbert Mayer, as well as capable projects from Germany, Slovenia, and Mexico.
We have thousands of photographs of Puuc, Chenes, and Rio Bec architecture, but really need donations or grants to allow us to find, catalog, scan, and make available all these photographs to Mexico. But with the dozen photographs of wooden lintels of Santa Rosa Xtampak, we wish to indicate that we really wish to share our material so that students and scholars can utilize it to advance studies of the remarkable palace and temple architecture of Campeche, Yucatan, and Quintana Roo.
Twenty years ago archaeologists used balloons to do "aerial photography" of their digs. Photographs from helicopters over 30 years ago by Nicholas Hellmuth have attracted many people from around the world to visit Tikal (since our photos are in several popular books on the Maya). So aerial photographs help scholars, and help Guatemala attract investment in tourism (which provides jobs to local people). But nowadays, balloons are passé; and helicopters have always been too expensive: today drones are available.
Drones were the feature of Photokina 2014 trade show in Cologne, and drones were more news at CES 2015 in Las Vegas. Since the FLAAR team is a prime consultant for SGI trade show in Dubai (same week as CES in USA) we had to skip CES, but three of us inspected several brands of drones at Photokina a few months ago in Cologne, Germany.
We are not employing drones at any archaeological site, but we publish this note to encourage scholars to study drone technology. We will be glad to assist in training any project staff members (since we attend the technology expositions where drones are available to study).
Presently we are learning about drones by employing them to study flowers high in trees. It would take a 600mm or 800mm prime telephoto lens to capture images of flowers in a tall tree. These lenses cost about $12,000 and up (so no surprise, until a kind benefactor assists by a donation, we do not have even a 400mm or 500mm lens).
We learned a lot this weekend by using drones to photograph two ceiba trees and two palo gordo trees (all in the Costa Sur area of Guatemala). The first important experience is that the normal kind of camera, GoPro and various clones, is great for hiking, biking, and family use, but has too much circular distortion for scientific use by botanists or archaeologists.
Our goal is to write up a list of suggestions of which drone brands, and which kinds of cameras and lenses would be best for archaeologists in Guatemala, Mexico, Honduras, and all the rest of Mesoamerica. By publishing our trial-and-error test results we can save archaeology projects a lot of time and money (so you don't acquire equipment which will not be adequate for a scientific project).
If you wish an experienced drone pilot in Guatemala, we recommend Juan Carlos Fernandez.
We have just finished an article on beans of the Maya, for the forthcoming January issue of IMS Explorer, a Maya-focused newsletter of Institute of Maya Studies at the Miami Science Museum. This article will be downloadable from their www.instituteofmayastudies.org in a few days.
In the meantime, the article by Dr Nicholas Hellmuth on flor de Muerto has been at the top of their home page the last month (once 2015 is on the calender, will probably be moved).
Now we are preparing articles on maize and a report on squash (and pumpkins and their kin). The articles for IMS magazine will be one to two pages; the PDF version for their museum web site will be 10 to 15 or more pages, all in full color.
We are fully aware that "maize, beans, and squash" were, in theory, not the mainstay of the Classic Maya diet (maize, beans and squash were the mainstay of the diet of Carnegie Institution of Washington era Mayanists, Spinden, J. Eric S. Thompson, etc.).
But… most Maya today (those who have not turned to Pepsi, Coca-Cola, Tortrix, etc) are eating primarily maize (over 40% of their diet), beans (over 30% of their diet) and in many cases squash also (though nowhere near the percent of maize and beans). Actually a typical mid-day almuerzo and evening cena for thousands of Maya still today is focused exclusively on tortillas and beans.
So we suggest that no matter how different some Maya lived 2000 years ago, maize, beans, and squash were still major items of diet (no matter how many ramon nuts and root crops they theoretically ate). Thus it is a good idea to learn more about maize, beans, and squash. We even have all three growing all around our headquarters building and even have it growing on our roof garden!
Since birds, four-footed animals, centipedes, and potentially millipedes may appear in Maya art, and as many creatures are mentioned in the Popol Vuh or in other myths or local stories, it is always a help to have a good photo archive available so that students, scholars, and interested lay people can learn about these various animals.
Since the "gray" fox is relatively common at most Maya archaeology ruins, most notable at Tikal, we felt this would be a good animal to photograph. Here you see the grey fox, Urocyon cinereoargenteus hanging out in tree limbs. Yes, this fox can climb trees, as can a raccoon and many other animals at Tikal National Park.
We appreciate the hospitality of the Parque Zoológico Nacional La Aurora for facilitating our photography in Guatemala City.