On this week’s show: Climate change is killing critical soil organisms in arid regions, and early evidence for the Maya calendar from a site in Guatemala.
Staff Writer Elizabeth Pennisi joins host Sarah Crespi to discuss how climate change is affecting “biocrust,” a thin layer of fungi, lichens, and other microbes that sits on top of desert soil, helping retain water and create nutrients for rest of the ecosystem. Recent measurements in Utah suggest the warming climate is causing a decline in the lichen component of biocrust, which is important for adding nitrogen into soils.
Next, Sarah talks with Skidmore College anthropologist Heather Hurst, who directs Guatemala’s San Bartolo-Xultun Regional Archaeological Project, and David Stuart, a professor of art history and director of the Mesoamerica Center at the University of Texas, Austin, about their new Science Advances paper. The study used radiocarbon dating to pin down the age of one of the earliest pieces of the Maya calendar. Found in an archaeological dig in San Bartolo, Guatemala, the character known as “seven deer” (which represents a day in the Maya calendar), was dated to 300 B.C.E. That early appearance challenges what researchers know about the age and origins of the Maya dating system.
For almost a millennium, the ancient ruins of great architecture lay buried beneath the jungle vegetation on the Yucatan Peninsula. Abandoned by their creators these ancient temples and pyramids are a stunning reminder of a powerful civilization that once ruled the people of Central America. Although the accomplishments of the ancient Mayans are astonishing, no city would escape the inevitable collapse. One by one they were swallowed by the rainforest leaving the amazing Mayan ruins hidden, waiting to be discovered.
The Maya civilization was a Mesoamerican civilization developed by the Maya peoples, and noted for its logosyllabic script—the most sophisticated and highly developed writing system in pre-Columbian Americas—as well as for its art, architecture, mathematics, calendar, and astronomical system.
Chichén Itzá is a complex of Mayan ruins on Mexico’s Yucatán Peninsula. A massive step pyramid, known as El Castillo or Temple of Kukulcan, dominates the ancient city, which thrived from around 600 A.D. to the 1200s. Graphic stone carvings survive at structures like the ball court, Temple of the Warriors and the Wall of the Skulls. Nightly sound-and-light shows illuminate the buildings’ sophisticated geometry.
Two National Geographic Explorers enter the Mayan Pyramid, El Castillo, in search of a hidden entrance to an underground cave. While inside they explain the significance of jaguar throne and human sacrifice.
This week on the podcast, Contributing Correspondent Lizzie Wade joins host Sarah Crespi to discuss a turning point for one ancient Mesoamerican city: Tikal. On 16 January 378 C.E., the Maya city lost its leader and the replacement may have been a stranger. We know from writings that the new leader wore the garb of another culture—the Teotihuacan—who lived in a giant city 1000 kilometers away.
But was this new ruler of a Maya city really from a separate culture? New techniques being used at the Tikal and Teotihuacan sites have revealed conflicting evidence as to whether Teotihuacan really held sway over a much larger region than previously estimated.
Sarah also talks with Rashid Sumaila, professor and Canada research chair in interdisciplinary ocean and fisheries economics at the University of British Columbia, Vancouver’s Institute for the Oceans and Fisheries. You may have heard of illegal fishing being bad for the environment or bad for maintaining fisheries—but as Sumaila and colleagues report this week in Science Advances, the illegal fishing trade is also incredibly costly—with gross revenues of between $8.9 billion and $17.2 billion each year.