Tag Archives: Mexico

Two New Mayan Cities Were Just Uncovered in the Jungles of the Yucatan

From about 2000 BC all the way up until the arrival of Europeans in the 16th and 17th century, the Mayan civilization thrived in the Yucatan peninsula of Central America.

The Maya were an extremely advanced society with a deep knowledge of science, mathematics and astronomy.

They had charted the movements of the moon and planets accurately enough to predict predict celestial events like eclipses hundreds of years before the heliocentric model was even accepted in Europe (in the 16th century).

A map of the two largest ancient civilizations in Central America. Click to enlarge

Now, a team of archaeologists from the Research Center of the Slovenian Academy of Sciences and Arts has uncovered the ruins of two new Mayan cities buried deep in the thick vegetation of the Yucatan jungle.

The first is technically a re-discovery. In the 1970s, American archaeologist Eric Von Euw stumbled upon the ruins of the ancient city of Lagunita while journeying through the Yucatan.

The city was marked by a massive facade entrance designed to look like the opening jaws of the traditional Mayan “earth monster”.

The facade entrance: “It represents a Maya earth deity related with fertility. These doorways symbolize the entrance to a cave and, in general, to the watery underworld, place of mythological origin of maize and abode of ancestors,” said expedition leader Ivan Sprajc. Click to enlarge (Photo: Ivan Sprajc)

Von Euw documented the facade along with a number of other stone monuments in a series of sketches, but unfortunately he didn’t keep an accurate log of his travels. Once he left, nobody was ever able to locate Lagunita again.

That is, until Ivan Sprajc (who led the recent expedition) and his team of archaeologists came upon a facade that seemed to match the one in Von Euw’s sketches.

After comparing the facade as well as other stone monuments in the area, the team confirmed that they had indeed re-discovered Lagunita.

Expedition leader Ivan Sprajc. Click to enlarge (Photo: INAH)

At the Lagunita site, the team found the remains of massive, palace-like buildings arranged around four courtyards. The site also included,

“A ball court and a temple pyramid almost 65 ft high also stood in the city, while 10 stelae (tall sculpted stone shafts) and three altars (low circular stones) featured well-preserved reliefs and hieroglyphic inscriptions,”

according to Discovery News.

Lagunita covered 54 acres across what is now the Mexican state of Campeche. Its large size suggests that the city served as a seat of government between 600-900 AD.

The remains of the temple, now overrun by vegetation. Click to enlarge (Photo: Ivan Sprajc)

Unlike Lagunita, the second city was a brand new discovery. The city was called Tamchen, which means “deep well” in the ancient Yucatec Maya language.

The name is fitting. Tamchen is pock-marked with more than 30 bottle-shaped underground chambers known as chultuns, used main to collect rainwater.

The opening to one of the chultuns. Click to enlarge (Photo: Ivan Sprajc)

Though Tamchen may have been founded a few years earlier, archaeologists say that both cities were probably thriving around the same time, making it likely that they regularly interacted with one another.

“Both cities open new questions about the diversity of Maya culture, the role of that largely unexplored area in the lowland Maya history, and its relations with other polities,”

said Sprajc.

Hopefully these new discoveries will give us a better understanding of what life was like in one of history’s most advanced ancient civilizations.

Read the full story from Discovery News here.

How These All-Female Lizards Are Able to Reproduce and Thrive Without the Help of Any Males

As far back as the 1960s, scientists were aware that a number of whiptail lizards in Mexico and the southwestern United States were made up entirely of females.

The most notable of these species, the New Mexico whiptail lizard, is able to reproduce healthy, well-bred offspring without the aid of male fertilization.

Whiptails aren’t the only species that reproduce asexually. In fact, there are 70 other vertebrate species that can do it. But the New Mexico whiptail may have unlocked the secret as to how it’s possible for a species that produces exclusively asexually to thrive.

Komodo dragons are among the vertebrate species that are able to reproduce asexually

Peter Baumann works at the Stowers Institute for Medical Research in Kansas City, Missouri. He co-authored a study on the lizards that was published in the journal Nature back in 2010.

Baumann explains that parthenogenteic species (species that reproduce without fertilization), are genetically isolated because they only inherit the DNA of one parent.

This means that any genetic weaknesses, like susceptibility to a disease or physical mutation, can’t be “overridden” by healthy genes from a second parent. The shallower the gene pool, the more likely it is to produce sick or mutated offspring.

To deal with this issue, the all-female whiptail lizard species have evolved to start the reproductive process with twice as many chromosomes as their sexually-producing lizard relatives.

New Mexico whiptail lizards were actually the result of two different species of lizard (the western whiptail and little striped whiptail) interbreeding to form a hybrid species. Because of this, these all-female lizards are equipped with a very diverse gene pool.

Left: little striped whiptail. Middle: New Mexico whiptail. Right: tiger whiptail. Click to enlarge

Instead of combining homologous chromosomes (like sexual species do, getting one set from each parent), the lizards pair recombined sister chromosomes instead. This maintains heterozygosity in the offspring.

Here’s a more simple way to think about it. Every one one us has DNA from generations and generations of our ancestors. When we reproduce, we combine our DNA with our partner’s- the resulting offspring’s genetic codes contains parts of both parents’ DNA.

But since we have such vast genetic diversity from all of our ancestors, the exact coding of the genes we pass along when we reproduce isn’t always the same, which is why brothers and sisters don’t all look the same.

A basic way to visualize how genetic information is passed on in sexual reproduction. Note that the “marbles” passed on by each individual parent are different for the two children. Click to enlarge

So, rather than combining its genetic code with that of a male, the whiptail lizard combines two different versions of its own DNA code, ensuring that each pairing of sister chromosomes will have multiple alleles (different forms of a gene), which gives the offspring the genetic diversity it needs to be healthy.

This discovery means that,

“these lizards have a way of distinguishing sister from homologous chromosomes,”

says Baumann. How do they do this? The researchers aren’t sure yet, but it’s the next question they will be investigating, along with the question of how they evolved to start reproduction with double the normal amount of chromosomes.

Female whiptail lizards perform courtship rituals with one another to stimulate ovulation. The top lizard will lay smaller eggs while the one on the bottom will lay larger eggs. They switch spots every mating season. Click to enlarge

Though it may seem like asexual reproduction would eventually hurt a species in the long run, Baumann also pointed that,

“You’re greatly increasing the chances of populating a new habitat if it only takes one individual.”

It seems to be working pretty well for these lizard ladies.

Read the original story from the Scientific American here.

Albino one-eyed cyclops shark; photo courtesy of Pisces Sportfishing

Check Out This Rare Baby Albino “Cyclops” Shark (Photo Gallery)

I’ll address all skeptics immediately, this is a real dusky shark fetus that was caught inside its mother in 2011 along with nine other normal baby sharks. Unfortunately the mother died when it was caught so none of the babies survived.

In 2011,Tracy Ehrenberg, general manager of Pisces Sportfishing in Cabo San Lucas, interviewed the fisherman who made the catch in the Sea of Cortez, southeast of La Paz, Mexico.

With so many shark species struggling to survive because of the shark finning industry, it’s unfortunate to lose a mother shark with ten offspring. However, Ehrenberg points out,

“It’s kind of sad to see a female with pups inside killed but this was taken by a commercial fishing skiff and this is how this fisherman makes his living. All parts of the shark are used, including the skin. The meat is salted and sent to mainland Mexico, where it is usually sold as bacalo or ‘cod.'”

Shark with Litter
Shark with Litter

When pictures of the shark first emerged online, the images went viral and skeptics all over declined the possibility of this being a real catch. Even the fisherman who made the catch was amazed, and to this day keeps the fish in preservation and refuses to sell it.

The story became more believable after Felipe Galvan, a prominent Mexican scientist, acknowledged that he had inspected the shark and wrote a paper describing the fish’s strange appearance as the result of,

“a rare congenital malformation, resulting from the division of the embryonic brain that leads to fusion of the eyes to form a single, central eye.”

This fish is certainly one of the strangest creatures I have ever seen. Check out more pictures below. Click an image to enlarge:

This Animal Isn’t A Snake. Think You Can Guess What It Really Is? (Photos)

Professor Daniel Janzen, a biology professor from the University of Pennsylvania, has spent years of his life cataloguing and photographing a very unique group of creatures: caterpillars that defend themselves against predators by looking and acting like snakes.

Check out some more pictures of “Snake Caterpillars” taken by Professor Janzen below:

Snake caterpillars can be found in Costa Rica, Guatemala, Belize, and some parts of Mexico. Their markings resemble a snake’s head, which they can actually use to “strike” at would be predators (though they obviously can’t bite like a real snake would).

Janzen is an ecologist and what most would call a caterpillar expert. He’s been tracking these insects in Costa Rica since 1978 and  has been an expert in the field of entomology (the study of insects) for 50 years.

Dan Janzen, with a prehensile-tailed porcupine on his shoulder (Photo: Winnie Hallwachs / NOVA)

He splits his time between his labs and the field, spending half the year at the University and the other half in Central America, searching for strange new species of insect like the snake caterpillars.

The Coolest Places On Earth: The Marieta Islands, Mexico (Pictures)

Off the western coast of Mexico, about 150 miles west of Guadalajara, lies a pair of uninhabited islands with a very peculiar history.

Formed by volcanic activity thousands of years ago, the islands have never been settled upon by anybody. In the early 1900s, the Mexican government decided to use the islands for military explosives testing, creating a number of extraordinary caves and rock formations on the islands.

Check out some pictures of the islands below:

In the late 1960s, world-famous scientist and environmental activist Jacques Cousteau led an international outcry about the testing, prompting the Mexican government to turn the islands into a national park.

Hunting, fishing and human activity are prohibited on the island, though visitors are allowed to check out the hidden beaches and caves created by the explosions.

The biodiversity of the islands is legendary. Visitors regularly report seeing sea turtles, manta rays, octopus, dolphins, and humpback whales, as well as thousands of species of tropical fish.

The islands are also home to a number of bird species, including the famous Blue-footed Booby, who has quite the scandalous sex life.

Blue-Footed Boobies: Their Scandalous Sex Lives And the Secret Behind Their Blue Feet (Video)

Blue-footed boobies are pretty fascinating as far as bird species go. The birds are a marine species, only needing land for mating and raising rearing their young.

The birds can be found up and down the Pacific coast from California all the way down to Peru, including in the world famous Galapagos Islands.

The birds are known for their bright blue feet, which they incorporate into their elaborate mating rituals. The birds use the blue feet as an indicator of health and potency: bluer feet mean a better potential mate.

The birds just can’t resist a really blue pair of feet, and often engage in extra-marital affairs. However, they always return to their life partner at the end of the day.

Check out the blue-footed booby’s mating dance and learn about their strange sex lives in the video below:

WikiLeaks Reveals the Other “Mystery” Country Under Total NSA Phone Surveillance: Afghanistan

This past Tuesday, The Higher Learning reported on an article from The Intercept which revealed (via documents released to them by Edward Snowden) that the NSA has been monitoring and recording virtually every single phone conversation in the Bahamas.

In their article, The Intercept admitted that the documents named another country as also being monitored under this extremely invasive program, but chose not to release the identity of the country because they worried that the revelation would almost certainly cause deaths.

Despite their worries, WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange vowed that his organization would reveal the identity of the mystery country. Yesterday, he delivered on his promise:

The revelation has sparked worry amongst the intelligence community, who don’t believe that WikiLeaks has full access to the Snowden documents.

It’s still unclear whether someone sent them a copy of the documents or whether they just got a tip from someone working with The Intercept. The leak site Cryptome even suggested that WikiLeaks may have just assumed that Afghanistan was the mystery country based off other already public information.

The MYSTIC Program was also collecting metadata from Mexico, Kenya and the Philippines

I must say I don’t think many people will be shocked to hear that the NSA has Afghanistan under heavy surveillance. Personally, I think the surveillance in the Bahamas is much more odd and unwarranted.

However, I do understand why The Intercept and Edward Snowden were worried about revealing Afghanistan. It’s highly likely that this revelation will be used to help fuel anti-American sentiment in the already unstable country. Whether or not that leads to violence remains to be seen.

Read more from Time here.

U.S. Border Patrol Has Become A Part-Time Record Label to Discourage Illegal Immigration

It all started back in 2006 when the U.S. Border Patrol Agency was searching for new ways to combat illegal immigration from Mexico. An increasing number of Mexicans were trying to cross the border illegally, and Border Patrol was finding it more and more difficult to combat the issue.

So the agency paid an undisclosed sum to Elevacion, a Washington, D.C.-based advertising company that focuses on advertising to Hispanic markets, to write and record a Mexican folk album. The songs were about tragic stories of people who tried to cross the border and were met with tragedy.

Those who decide to attempt to enter the United States illegally  face a number of potential perils on the journey:

“Professional smugglers and bandits who beat, rob, rape and abandon them; bitingly cold or scorching temperatures; snakes, scorpions; drowning; and death by dehydration or exhaustion.”

A Border Patrol vehicle drives through the desert, alongside the border fence (Photo: David McNew/Getty Images)

U.S. Border Patrol figured that producing music about these dangers might help dissuade Mexicans from trying to enter America illegally. They had Elevacion distribute that first CD to radio stations across Mexico over the past two years. Apparently, the majority of stations playing the songs and the listeners requesting them are totally oblivious about the original source of the music.

With the success of their debut album, the agency (along with Elavacion) is now working on its second CD, entitled “Migra Corridos“. The title was supposed to mean “songs of the immigrant,” but the word “migras” is also often used as slang for Border Patrol in many parts of Mexico.

The new CD brings with it a whole new set of tragic stories, including,

“a cousin who dies from dehydration, a mother who is raped and beaten by a child-killing smuggler, [and] one man’s suffocation in an airtight tractor-trailer.”

X-ray of the inside of a truck containing illegal immigrants. Using this technology, authorities discovered 517 immigrants in this truck and another that was with it back in 2011 (Image: Government of Chiapas via EPA)

Here’s some excerpts from the upcoming album (translated from Spanish):

“He put me in a trailer / There I shared my sorrows / With 40 illegals / They never told me / That this was a trip to hell.” – El Respeto (Respect)

“After some hours / Abelardo opened his eyes / And in the middle of the cold night / Discovered his dead cousin at his side.” – El Mas Grande Enemigo (The Biggest Enemy)

Read more from AZ Central here.

 

 

What Does the World Eat For Breakfast? (Video)

Have you ever woke up and thought, ‘I really feel like some bread with cold cuts and cucumber and a side of hard-boiled eggs and sliced tomato!’? Ya, me neither. It’s probably because we’re not from Sweden, where this is a typical breakfast meal.

Check out this BuzzFeed video that shows you what a typical breakfast looks like in a number of different countries:

The Coolest Places on Earth: Cancun Underwater Museum of Art (Pictures)

The Cancun Underwater Museum of Art is the brainchild of English sculptor Jason deCaires Taylor. In November of 2009, he began the project by placing 100 sculptures in the shallow water of Cancun National Marine Park. He has since added more sculptures.

Taylor models the sculptures after members of the local community there, and since they are made of pH neutral marine concrete, they will become artificial reefs over time as they are covered with coral.

Check out some pictures of the museum (click an image to enlarge):

The goal is to divert divers from the already threatened natural reefs (where they often cause more problems) to the artificial reefs of the Cancun Underwater Museum.

Here’s a video from CNN which provides more information about the project: