donderdag 6 oktober 2011

Ancient road at Maya village buried by volcanic ash 1,400 years ago Discovered

A University of Colorado Boulder-led team excavating a Maya village in El Salvador buried by a volcanic eruption 1,400 years ago has unexpectedly hit an ancient white road that appears to lead to and from the town, which was frozen in time by a blanket of ash.

The sacbe at the buried village of Ceren -- which had canals of water running on each side -- is the first ever discovered at a Maya archaeology site that was built without bordering paving stones, said Sheets. The road was serendipitously discovered by the team while digging a test pit through 17 feet of volcanic ash in July to analyze agricultural activity on the edges of Ceren, considered the best preserved Maya village in Central America.

"We know there was a celebration going on when the eruption hit," said Sheets. "And we've found no evidence of anyone going back to their houses, gathering up valuables, and fleeing, because all the household doors were tied shut. We think people may have left the plaza and run south, possibly on the sacbe, because the danger was to the north."


Radiocarbon dates from Ceren indicate the eruption occurred in roughly A.D. 630, and CU researchers have even pinpointed the month and time of day the fiery mass of ash and debris from the Loma Caldera volcano rained down on the town from less than a third of a mile away. Sheets believes the eruption hit at roughly 7 p.m. on an August evening because of the mature corn stalks preserved in ash casts, the fact that the farming implements had been brought inside, the sleeping mats had not yet been rolled out, meals had been served but the dishes were not yet washed, and corn was set into pots to soak in water overnight.

Sheets said it is logical that the villagers in the plaza might have used the white sacbe as an emergency route to flee the destruction of the volcano in the dark of night. "How far they might have gotten, I don't know," said Sheets. "It would have been a footrace. I think it is very likely we will find bodies as we follow the sacbe southward in future excavations." To date, no human remains have been found at the village.

While some refer to Ceren as "The New World Pompeii," Sheets is quick to point out the differences. Pompeii was an affluent Roman resort community with multi-story concrete houses, stone streets and marble statues, while Ceren was a modest farming community. Because tiny particles of hot, moist ash blanketed Ceren and packed the thatch-roofed structures, gardens and agricultural fields, the preservation of organic materials is greater than at Pompeii, where dry, pea-sized particles rained down in the Mount Vesuvius eruption of A.D. 79.


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