National Geographic covers David Stuart and Palenque

Anyone who didn’t find his way to the YouTube-Video of National Geographic Live! – “Palenque and the Ancient Maya World” definitely needs to go there right now. It’s a 40-minute video with lectures of George and David Stuart. You might know David Stuart from his blog Maya Decipherment, to which I have already linked in the past. I’ve embedded the video for your convenience:

Have fun watching these very interesting lectures!

Posted in Archaeology, Deciphering, Maya, Other blogs, Video | Tagged , , , | 1 Comment

Stunning pictures of indigenous beauty queens of Guatemala

Rodrigo Abd, Argentinian photoprapher for Associated Press, recently went to Guatemala and took pictures there of candidates for the title of National Indigenous Queen of Guatemala. Myles Little of Time Magazine has a very interesting short article about it. The contest was hosted this month at the Rabin Ajau National Folkloric Festival in Guatemala City. Abd took the pictures with a wooden box camera in the style of the 19th century. This resulted in some stunning pictures.

One of Abd's pictures
picture: Moises Castillo - AP, taken from

The styles in clothing and decoration of indigenous tribes vary over time and especially region. It’s an often overlooked detail in modern society how clothing may constitute a certain identification. We can find several repeating patterns of ornaments in jewelry of ancient cultures, and they indeed vary. Think about the decoration of teeth with jade by the Maya.

Maya tooth decoration

This brings me back to my plan to publish some articles about the ideals of beauty in Mesoamerican cultures. Yeah, we should definitely go for that.

So long you can find further information about the photography technique and of course the pictures in a Light Box article of the Time magazine here. Be sure to check all of them out!

Posted in Culture, Other blogs | Tagged , , | Leave a comment

Poor Cuitláhuac…

We come to a very poor figure in later Aztec history. Poor, because of his situation as Aztec ruler. Poorer, because of what the modern distribution of information made of him. It’s about the person called Cuitláhuac. He was the brother of Moctezuma II. after whose death he inherited the title of Tlatoani and therefore the throne of Mexico. Those of you readers who know how Moctezuma II. died – he was killed by stones thrown by his own people, during a protest against the Spanish presence – are already aware that this was in the middle of a very tense situation between the Aztecs and the Spaniards. After 80 days of reign, he was killed by the European secret weapon – smallpox. His succesor was Cuauhtemoc, the last ruler of the Aztecs.

[EDIT: Reader Gabriel rightfully points out that there are other, contradictory accounts on Moctezuma’s death, such as indigenous accounts or later compiled ones. Readers looking for more information could have a look at their Wikipedia – which can already bring interesting results – or consult Diego Durán, Hernando Alvarado de Tezozomoc, Francisco Cervantes de Salazar, Alva Ixtlilxochitl or the contemporary work of Tzvetan Todorov, 1982]

That’s a very straightforward story. Why should he be considered poor (apart from the smallpox and war)?

Because of his name – let me explain:

First of all, many people write “Cuitláhuac” wrong – they write “Cuitláhac” instead. Under this wrong name, the internet (especially the german one, it seems) has a legend about the meaning of his name. You know how it is with such things, even the German Wikipedia says so. Anyway, it’s said the name Cuitláhac means “Pile of Shit”. That’s what they say…

Wait... What did you just call me?!

Let us think for a second. You are the uncle of Moctezuma II., member of a rich family, get a son and name him “pile of shit”? Well, of course the Aztecs could have had a different relationship towards excrements – still it sounds weird enough to have a closer look at this… mess.

Legends and history books have it, that “Cuitláhuac” was not the real name of the Emperor. When the Spaniards were in Mexico, there has been a misunderstanding. Malinche – translator and more of Cortéz – seems to have called Cuitláhuac a name: well, of course “Cuitláhuac”. It’s not clear, if it was sarcasm or if she wanted to ridicule him. What is clear is, that the Spaniards obviously didn’t get it, as they started to call him Cuitláhuac. And since Cuitláhuac had some other things to deal with – like trying to drive out the 3300 Spaniards and Tlaxcalans during La Noche Triste – he couldn’t find a chance to tell them, that “pile of shit” is not his real name.

His real name was probably “Cuauhtlahuac”, which is slighty more awe-inspiring, than the alternative, as it means “Eagle over the Water” – majestic, really.

Muuuuuuch better...

And as I already indicated, “pile of shit” might still not be what Cuitláhuac really means. Let’s pick that word apart…

Cuitláhuac looks like two words. When two Nahuatl words get combined, they lose their ending. Let’s go with that approach. Then we get:
Cuitlatl – excrement
Huactli – bird

Oh my… it does have something to do with excrement. But what about the bird? Like that the word could mean something like… “shitbird/bird of shit”. Ok, that’s even worse. Poor Cuitláhuac…

There is another possibility. -huac could be a suffix. And indeed, the passive suffix in Nahuatl is -hua. “Being excremented”, so to say. Yet, we should keep in mind, that Malinche allegedly shouted that towards him, which makes it a name. Then we would read it as something like “He, who was covered with excrement/’enbrowned'”. And that’s exactly what the Linguistic Historian Frances Karttunen understood as well. According to his interpretation in his Analytical Dictionary of Nahuatl, this literal translation is not what Malinche meant. It is a metaphor! A metaphor for someone who is pretty busy, because he was assigned to do something. Cuitláhuac means therefore “he, who has been comissioned to care for something”.

That’s it – that is the meaning of Cuitláhuac, itself being sarcasm or ridicule from Malinche. One could say, that Malinche can’t do anything right, really. Several people really don’t like her, as her behaviour towards her own indigenous people is sometimes considered traitorous. But that is another topic for another blog post.

We did a good thing today. Cuitláhuac is still poor, because he has an assigment to care for. But that is much better than being called mean expressions. Now I hope, that the internet strikes again and distributes also this piece of information, which might look less funny and spectacular in the beginning – in the end, it’s closer to the truth and nevertheless very fascinating.

Posted in Aztec, History, Misconception, Nahuatl | Tagged , , , , , | 6 Comments

Wissenschaftlicher Artikel anlässlich der “Bild”-Schatzsuche – und TCMAM ist dabei

(This is the German version of the last article about the citation of TCMAM in a scientific article. For the English version, have a look here.)

Ich freue mich sehr, berichten zu können, dass die THIG-Berichterstattung über die Maya-Schatzsuche der “Bild”-Zeitung und der Artikel im BILDblog in einem hervorragenden, wissenschaftlichen Artikel zur Wissenschaftskommunikation als positives Beispiel erwähnt wurde. Der Artikel stammt von Diane Scherzler und wird in Archäologische Informationen der Deutschen Gesellschaft für Ur- und Frühgeschichte e.V. veröffentlicht.

Vielleicht erinnert ihr euch...

Die Zusammenfassung des Artikels liest sich so:

“Im März 2011 startete die „Bild“-Zeitung eine Expedition zum Izabal-See im Osten Guatemalas. Acht Tonnen
Maya-Gold wollten Reporter und ein „Maya-Experte“ in einer angeblich versunkenen Stadt finden. Dieser Artikel untersucht anhand dieser „Schatzsuche“, wie sich Wissenschaftler in solche Szenarien einbringen und sie beeinflussen können. Vor dem Hintergrund zweier qualitativer Befragungen – von Archäologen und von „Bild“-Lesern – wird erörtert, welche Chancen und welche Risiken Blogs, FacebookKommentare und Wikipedia-Artikel für die nicht-wissenschaftliche Darstellung und Rezeption archäologischer Sachverhalte bieten. Wie verändern Soziale Medien und Netzwerke die Kommunikation von Wissenschaftlern und Bürgern? Welche Schritte müssen Archäologen gehen, die die neuen Möglichkeiten nutzen wollen?”

Im Artikel nutzt Scherzler unsere Berichterstattung und den Gastkommentar im BILDblog als Beispiel, wie man mit so einer Schatzsuche umgehen kann:
“[TCMAM] hat den Mesoamerikanisten und den Archäologen jedenfalls eindrucksvoll vorgemacht, was eine einzelne Person, die den Machenschaften der „Bild“ etwas entgegen setzen will, erreichen kann, was sie vor allem im Web 2.0 erreichen kann.”

Wie man sieht, geht es vor allem um die Frage, wie Wissenschaftler und Akademiker in der heutigen Zeit kommunizieren und damit die Kluft zum interessierten Laien überbrücken könnten, um Aufklärung über bestimmte Sachverhalten zu geben. Es ist wirklich hochinteressante Lektüre. Wer sich den Artikel also gerne komplett durchlesen möchte, kann ihn hier herunterladen.

Hier außerdem die Links zum BILDblog-Artikel und der Fortsetzung.

Posted in Archaeology, Blog affairs, German, Mesoamerica, THIG | Tagged | Leave a comment

TCMAM was cited in a scientific article regarding the BILD treasure hunt

I’m very excited to tell, that the THIG-report of TCMAM has been covered in a scientific article about the BILD treasure hunt earlier this year and the need for a social media strategy of scientific bodies. The article was written by Diane Scherzler and will be published in Archaeological Information of the German Society for Pre- and Protohistory (German: Archäologische Informationen, Deutsche Gesellschaft für Ur- und Frühgeschichte e. V.).

Maybe you remember this...

The abstract of the article reads like this:

“In March 2011, the German tabloid „Bild“ launched an expedition to Lake Izabal in Eastern Guatemala. Reporters and a „Maya expert“ wanted to find eight tons of Maya gold in a supposed sunken city. This article examines on the basis of this „treasure hunt“ how scientists can participate in and influence such scenarios. Against the background of two qualitative surveys – of archaeologists and „Bild“ readers – the opportunities and risks of blogs, Facebook comments and Wikipedia articles for the non-scientific representation and reception of archaeological facts are discussed. How do social media and networks change the communication of scientists and citizens? What steps do archaeologists need to go, who want to use the new possibilities?”

Then Scherzler uses our reports about BILD on this Blog and the watchblog BILDblog as an example of how to deal with such a topic:
“[TCMAM] however impressively demonstrated the Mesoamericanists and Archaeologists what one single person, who wants to oppose the scheming of “Bild”, can achieve, can especially achieve in the Web 2.0.”

As I wrote yesterday, scientists and academics need to communicate with the broad public, in order to let them take part in their work, at least superficially. That is in a way modern enlightenment and would oppose developments, which makes the science guys seem like the distant, reserved… the bad guys.

Everyone who wants to read the article (which is unfortunately only available on German) can download it here.

Posted in Archaeology, Blog affairs, Mesoamerica, THIG | Tagged | 4 Comments

What do anthropologists think about the 2012-phenomena?

I came across an interesting interview with John W. Hoopes, anthropologist at the University of Kansas. In it, he approaches the 2012 phenomena from the anthropologic point of view. You can find the whole interview here. However, I want to point out four aspects, symbolised by four little quotes, which were especially interesting for me.

“I think a lot of the current generation of high school and college kids learn about archaeology through video gaming. They learn about it through Civilization and Tomb Raider.”

You shouldn’t get Hoopes wrong. It’s better to learn some things through video games than nothing at all. And I’m sure that video games can from time to time raise interest in history. But if someone tends to accept game content as actual history or if he stays limited to it, he doesn’t really have knowledge.

Wait? You didn't know that the Lighthouse of Alexandria was constructed by the Ottoman Empire in 175 AD?

Learning about history from popculture alone doesn’t give the real impression. Popculture mixes facts with fiction and desires. TV shows and games have to be interesting first, not historically or factually exact. Yet, the most part of information about 2012 is popculture.

Tomb Raider 8:
Lara Croft and the rotatable Maya-Aztec-something-with-a-jaguar calendar sun-stone thing...
picture:, Higher quality alternative

“If some of the 2012 theories seem like they were made up by people on drugs, it’s because they were.”

Please remember, that this is an anthropologist talking here. He doesn’t mean to insult or ridicule anyone. He’s just trying to make clear, from which cultural background these theories came. It was the 80’s, New Age, Jose Arguelles, completed with Lovecraftian elements like cycles of desctruction. “It’s been tied together with the Age of Aquarius, the legitimacy of prophecy, and visionary experiences” as Hoopes continues. All in all the theories would be interesting as a fiction. Yet nowadays for some people they are a spiritual reality and they have no idea about neither the facts nor the origin of this modern day myth.

“You can’t educate yourself simply by reading the web and watching the History Channel.”

This is a critical point, not only towards the 2012-phenomena, but towards almost everything. What do scholars do? What makes them have more knowledge than us? How can it be, that some people think they can easily make scholars the bad guys or the guys that know nothing really?

These questions seem to have two sets of answers:
(1) One set turns around the fact that the average person is often ignorant, not so much towards a topic, but towards his own ignorance (no, seriously, just read on).
(2) The other set is, that scholars approach a topic by reading and analyzing the original sources, not some concentrated (and therefore incomplete) website or narration, made spectacular for a TV show.

Let’s roll it up from behind. There is a difference between studying the original sources and interpretations of them. This is especially obvious with the 2012 topic. What do we know about it? There is one reference to that date in the original Maya sources: the Tortuguero Monument #6. We don’t know exactly what it says, as it is incomplete. It is however doubtable, that it contains a prophecy of some sort. The most famous prophecies, that we can find are derived from the Chilam Balam, a post-colonial document. It was written, after the Christian missionaries came and told the indigenous population, that the end of the world is near and that Jesus will come back soon. Regarding this fact, it’s understandable, why there are apocalyptic prophecies. The connection between apocalyptic prophecies and the 21st of December 2012 wasn’t established by scholars however. It is a mixture of facts, New Age and fiction.

This mixture is especially visible in the topic of Hunab Ku. The related article here on TCMAM is easily one of the most visited articles of this blog. It’s a simple search term that brings people here: hunab ku meaning. People want to know about it, because they’ve heard about it. Scholars don’t write about it, because it’s either not a phenomena of their field or everything important about it has already been written. It’s popculture, mythology. There is no use of writing about something like that for them. Hunab Ku is about a Maya God, that was probably introduced by Christian missionaries.

And yet, the internet looks like this...
picture: Google Images

You know that now and can understand the background. The scholars have known it for a long time. Many people still don’t know about it and simply use and interpret the input they get from books that already hold doubtable interpretations. We find interpretations of interpretations of interpretations, which have no connection anymore to the real sources. They are just fiction and fantasy; yet some people develop a belief on their basis.

Furthermore we are ignorant towards our own ignorance. We are not aware of the gigantic gap of knowledge between us and the ones we would be, if we would read the original documents. If we would be aware of our ignorance, we would also realise, that we shouldn’t believe every interpretation that is out where. We realise, that we should be skeptical – of course also towards scholars, which are fallible human beings, too. Being skeptical would at least keep us from developing a spiritual movement from objectively false interpretations of incomplete sources.

“[Scientists] are not well prepared in terms of how it is that we talk to people who are interested in the spiritual aspects of this. I think that actually polarizes the dialogue sometimes. Scientists and academics end up being seen as the bad guys.”

It takes a lot of time and specialisation to deal with the original and authentic sources. Too much time for the average reader who is just interested in the topic, but has a job of his own. Skeptically reading many interpretations can be a good approach to this problem. Still the actual work of scientists and scholars would be far away from what the then educated reader needs. That is a serious problem, not only in this 2012 context. For many people the scientific community gives the impression of an ivory tower.

This problem is solvable and in fact gets approached by many scholars. You’ve seen the blog of Stephen Houston before. And there are more blogs of the same kind. They let the interested reader take part in their work. Then there are blogs like TCMAM, which try to rationally explore the facts.

A closer relationship and a transparent communication could avoid that many people establish a spiritual connection to some interpretations. As Hoopes correctly states: “There’s a lot there that’s similar to the beginnings of other religious traditions. [… 2012 i]s not treated as historical or scientific, but as spiritual.” Scientists are not the bad guys. And they are certainly also not claiming, that they know everything. They are not ignoring facts, in fact they only deal with such. The gap between the average reader and the scientific community is too big however for mutual identification. Both sides have to work towards bridging this gap, if it should really be about truth and not about myth.

There is a long way to go and we can be sure, that the 22nd of December 2012 won’t be the end of this movement. There will be explanations, recalculations of dates. It’s been always like that with unfounded, spiritual, mythological movements.

Posted in 2012 Countdown, Culture, Deciphering, History, Misconception | Tagged , , | 1 Comment

Where and what is Mesoamerica?

Following our last post about where North America begins, today I want to react to a google query, that brought a visitor here: “Is Mesoamerica part of North or South America?” I want to answer this question today. It’s obviously important here to know what we speak about, when we use North, Central and South America. Although the last article dealt with the question what should be considered North America, it never gave a definition. For this Article today, I want to define it, so everyone knows what we are talking about and can extrapolate own explanations.


In case we divide the Americas in two continents, North America stretches until the Isthmus of Panama. That’s pretty obvious. I marked it in red on this picture.

You have to love Google for the pictures.

If we want to add Central America as a geographic region, we do it at the Isthmus of Tehuantepec. Central America therefore lies between the isthmuses of Tehuantepec and Panama. I marked both in the next picture.

Thanks again, Google

The circumstance of Mexico being separated by this line, doesn’t make Mexico a Central American Country. It’s situated in North America with the majority of its landmass – and also historically and politically it makes a lot of sense, to put it there.

Let’s use this second definition for the answer to our question. This way, we can make more accurate descriptions.

Where or what is Mesoamerica?

Now to the question where Mesoamerica is situated and also what it is at all. The greek word Meso means Middle, which would make Mesoamerica Middle America. This is however already a used term, which sometimes refers to Central America. But Mesoamerica is different from Central America. Mesoamerica is not a geographically shaped region, but identifiable by cultural and historical factors. Also it stretches far out the Central American regions into northern Mexico.

The Mesoamerican region
picture: El Comandante/

On this map, we can see that Mesoamerica is refering to a region up to the North of Mexico. In the South-West it also covers the nowadays states of Belize, Guatemala and El Salvador. Please remember, that it is a cultural region, defined by the spread of different indigenous tribes and cultures. Therefore, we can also separate Mesoamerica in smaller cultural regions. In the South for example we can find the Maya region, which stretches roughly to the Isthmus of Tehuantepec.


Mesoamerica is definitely in North America and definitely not in South America. By our second definition, it is also partially in the geographical region of Central America. It is itself however not a geographical term, but a cultural, historical one, shaped by the expansion of the pre-columbian cultures.

Posted in Geography, Mesoamerica | Tagged , | 12 Comments