Sunday, August 31, 2014

the palimpsest

Welcome back from Summer albeit we have several week before the onset of Fall.

We left May with a compelling talk by Dr. Lynne Goldstein to misnamed Aztalan which has nothing to do with Aztecs but much ado with the Mississippians.

Areal view of Aztalan

Dr. Goldstein brought the CAS up-to-speed subsequent to the CAS 2011 Summer Safari. According to Dr. Goldstein Aztalan has emerged as a significant site.

The 2014 Summer Safari plans were considering the Fort St. Joseph Niles Michigan site as a natural follow-up to Dr. Michael Nassaney’s introduction to this late 18th century frontier fort that had witnessed such historic events as the Conspiracy of Pontiac. Unfortunately we had to change planes because of the temporary 2014  hiatus at the site.

The change of plans kept the CAS in the region, but instead we went to the Snite Museum of Notre Dame University. Members may recall the May 2010 presentation by Mr. Douglas Bradley, Curator at the Snite and his warm welcome to visit the Snite. Unfortunately our visit comes after the passing of Mr. Bradley, nevertheless our visit to the Snite was warmly received. The museum houses a vast collection of  Meso American and South American art.

Some CAS members completed a summer of discovery with a visit to Nashville, Tennessee to
Dr. Michael Nassaney
explore the remarkable (remarkable because of the recreation of a towering Athena within the temple) 1-to-1 copy of the Athenian Parthenon.
MexiMayan Tours will visit the Athens, Parthenon in October for information you may call 630 972-9090.

Until October….

Bob Stelton, editor

Petitioning the Gods in Times of Drought: Ancient Maya Pilgrimage at the Cara Blanca Pools, Belize

The CAS will open its 2014-15 lecture season on September 28 when guest lecturer, Dr. Lisa J. Lucero escorts us into the lost world of the Belizean Maya. Because so much of the Maya glyphs are known, we know more about the Maya and their culture than any other New World Pre-Columbian culture. We know more about the cities than remote ceremonial centers such as Cora Blanca, and Dr. Lucero is filling in many missing pieces of the Maya mosaic.

Dr. Lucero will open new perspectives on an ancient Maya landscape that was imbued with sacred, animate qualities, which the Maya either left untouched or transformed using established customs. Of particular significance were openings in the earth, such as caves and pools, which the Maya considered portals to the underworld. They would leave offering at openings and petition gods, ancestors and other supernatural entities for plentiful rain and bountiful crops. 

Cara Blanca in central Belize is such a place with its 25 pools. Their isolation from settled communities and the relatively sparse but unique architecture near pools, such as water temples and sweat baths, suggest that Cara Blanca served as a pilgrimage destination.

Growing evidence from exploratory dives and excavations at a temple at the edge of one of the pools indicate that the Maya increased their visits to Cara Blanca in response to a series of prolonged droughts that struck the Maya area between c. 800 and 930 C.E. 

In addition to yielding information on ancient Maya pilgrimage, water ceremonies and sacred geography, pools also yield information about rainfall patterns and landscape transformation.

Personal memories:
An effective teacher at some time told you something about the past that made you wonder about how people survived in the past. Dr. Lisa Lucero had too many unanswered questions. She decided to become an archaeologist and her non-academic parents supported her decision. Today she is a professor at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, continuing her search and inspiring her students. You can google Dr. Lucero and find information about her Maya studies and excavations in Belize. You can find her abstracts online too.

Drone view of Rath Pool. Photo by Tony Rath. 
Since the mistaken idea that the Maya predicted the end of the world in 2012 made headlines, curiosity about the mysterious Maya has increased. People questioned “did they die out?” There are millions still living in villages and farming their milpas (corn fields). What did die was a hierarchal system with a bloated ruling class who told the people when to plant and when to harvest. They made the rules about their lives and how to appease the gods.

Years ago Bob and I lived in a Maya village in the Yucatan with students, to study the Mayas. These Mayas must have been descendants of ancient Maya who lived near sites such as Ek Balam. They probably were farmers because that was what they were when we stayed with them. When the ancient hierarchical system broke down, their ancestors left and found places to live together co-operatively. 

What did they do if they guessed wrong and the rains did not come after the seeds were planted? They did a ritual. We learned that it had happened to these village farmers at least once. They gathered their sacred objects and the gifts to the gods and went to a certain place and set up their table. Four boys assumed the role of frogs at the table’s corners and made frog noises all night. One of the elders decided to ask the priest if they could borrow the small carved saints from the church. The priest said no; but they borrowed them anyway. And what happened? It rained, of course. 

What they did in that village, may or may not, have much to do with what actually happened in ancient times. And it may, or may not, have little to do with what happened in a remote village in Belize where Dr. Lucero has been working. And Dr. Lucero has been working with archaeological tools to answer many nagging questions. We are wondering. What did they do when there was a drought? What did Dr. Lucero discover?

By Deb Stelton

Edward Barna Kurjack 1938 – 2014 In Memoriam

The Chicago Archaeological Society was saddened by news of the passing of their friend Dr. Edward B. Kurjack on August 2, 2014.

Professor Kurjack, Ed to friends and associates, was indeed a valued and sincere friend of the CAS who was a frequent presenter before the CAS. He always declined any honorarium even refusing reimbursement of travel expenses from Macomb or Florida! An early check cut in Ed’s favor went uncashed.

Although a nationally recognized Mayanist, Ed’s archaeological/anthropological interests spanned the globe including Greece and Italy, Egypt which began with his investigations in the Philippines as a graduate student.

CAS travelers accompanying the MexiMayan travel adventure last March 2013, Searching for the Maya, had the special privilege of sharing Ed’s depth of understand of the Maya and the Dzibilchalt├║n Site. At that time, in an underground tunnel below a Maya ceremonial platform, he presented an impromptu lecture that explained the importance of stelae fragments, intentionally destroyed and serving as part of the foundation of the structure above. Among his audience were CAS members Sally Campbell, Marcia Streetman and Ronald Albiani.

Ed traveled with the 2013 MexiMayan Yucatan travel adventure as a special consultant. In failing health he struggled with the rigors of an active tour without complaint. It would be his final presentation and contribution to the CAS,

For the reader who missed the May 2012 meeting or for those who wish to review Ed’s final bow the CAS DVD is available on loan.

We shall miss Dr. Edward Barna Kurjack.