Photographer's Note

Central America abounds in pre-Colombian ruins, featuring the vestiges of city-states — among them, Tikal (Guatemala); Copan (Honduras); Chichen Itza, Uzmal, and Palanque (the last three in Mexico). Listed here are just the ruins associated with the Maya, and do not even include the ruins of other civilizations such as the Olmec, Mixtec, Zapotec, Toltec and the Aztec (the last was subjugated by Hernan Cortez in the early 16th century).

The Maya — a race of gifted artists, architects, mathematicians and astronomers — were astride their classical period (between the 3rd and 10th centuries) when much of Europe was immersed in the ‘Dark Ages.’ The Maya had formulated their mathematics based on the vigesimal system (base 20) and even invented the zero around the first century AD, something unheard of in Europe. (In reality, by 500 BC Hindu mathematicians had invented the decimal (base 10) system and introduced the zero — astronomer Aryabhata having first formalized it. But the decimal system, replete with the zero, would not be introduced into Europe until 1202 AD, when Leonardo Fibonacci published his book, Liber Abaci). Regarding the decimal vs. vigesimal, we have ten fingers, making 10 quite special; the Maya also had ten fingers, but wore no shoes, elevating 20 to special status. (It may also be that the French word for 80, "quatravingt," is a vestige of the distant past when the people of the area used 20 as its base.)

Seen in this photo are the ruins of Tikal, the most impressive of all Mayan city-states, deep in the Peten rain forest in the Yucatan Peninsula. In flying from Guatemala City to these ruins, one sees them suddenly come into focus, towering white rocks from an endless sea of broccoli-like chickel trees. Deeply devout people, the Maya worshiped the God of the Sun, the Moon, the Rain, and their own rulers who served as conduits to their Gods. On Nov. 16, 2006, I had posted an image of Temple II, Temple of the Giant Jaguar, built in AD 700 to honor such a ruler. The present photo shows the most imposing of all of the temples in Tikal, “The Jaguar Priest,” Temple IV, rising 72 m (close to 25 stories), and completed in AD 720. The earliest monument with a date on had been erected at the site in AD 292. Tikal's last monument would be erected in AD 869. By then the great city-state was already in decline, would soon be abandoned. The technique for farming, slash and burn, had led to arable land being depleted in concentric circles, with porters unable to bring food from farther out. There were no large beasts of burden in Meso-America until the Spaniards began to introduce them in the early 16th century.

On a month-long Christmas-New Year cruise through the Caribbean and Central America, I was serving as the ‘cultural enrichment lecturer’ on the ship, Royal Viking Sea. RVL was the first of the luxury cruise lines that offered such lectures. As a young academic on break from teaching, I was less than half the average age of the passengers.

I took the photograph on December 26, 1975, and after thirty-one years, it is 1/40 the age of the pyramid. I used Kodachrome-25 slide film, a Nikkor 135mm fixed focal length lens mounted on a Nikon-F camera body. I scanned the slide recently, in order to post the image on TrekEarth. The double-mat with black core was created in Photoshop, and the color of the mat picked up as a complementary color from the image itself.

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Additional Photos by Bulent Atalay (batalay) Gold Star Critiquer/Gold Star Workshop Editor/Gold Note Writer [C: 6774 W: 470 N: 12149] (41261)
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