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        Quest for the Lost Maya

        National Geographic's Quest for the Lost Maya follows a team of archaeologists as they uncover evidence of a forgotten Mayan society in the Yucatán. Buried beneath an ancient pyramid deep in the Yucatán jungle, the team discovers an even more ancient royal palace complex. They unearth a massive stone acropolis that rises nearly 30 feet above the jungle floor and is crowned with a ceremonial platform the size of four football fields; it could have held thousands of people. And, nearly 300 feet underground, they discover cryptic cave paintings that may be among the oldest Mayan iconography ever discovered in Mexico. 

        http://education.nationalgeographic.com/education/quest-for-lost-maya/?ar_a=1

        Remains of a Thriving Civilization

        This National Geographic video segment of Quest for the Lost Maya discusses Xocnacah [SHOHK-nuh-kay], a massive, ancient Mayan city. The construction of the city's center plaza would have required enormous human effort, including the work of architects, mathematicians, engineers, masons, and accountants, overseen by kings and their appointed leaders. Such a labor force suggests that a very well-organized, highly sophisticated Mayan civilization inhabited the Yucatan as early as 600 BCE. Tomas and his team of archaeologists uncover a massive elevated stone plaza where Mayans participated in rituals and celebrations. Using radio carbon dating, Tomas discovers that the structure is 2,500 years old. The structure is one of the largest of its kind to be discovered from 500 BCE.

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        Technology, Rainwater, and the Survival of the Maya

        This National Geographic video clip from Quest for the Lost Maya focuses on technology. Modern civilizations rely on extensive engineering infrastructure to make life possible. Residents of the arid American Southwest, for instance, are able to sustain megacities thanks to irrigation networks and aqueducts that transport massive amounts of water from distant locations, as well as technologies that convert sewage into potable water. Mayans constructed chultuns, water-holding wells, by excavating large chambers into underground rock and covering the walls with stucco to make them waterproof. The Maya engineered the "Stairway to Heaven" to capture each drop of water and guide it down into eight chultuns, from which they removed and used the water.

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        Changing Climate and the Maya

        Archaeologists have long puzzled over the collapse of Mayan civilization. What led to the massive depopulation of major Mayan cities in the 900s? Scientists have considered war and political factors, but this National Geographic segment of Quest for the Lost Maya suggests another explanation. In a University of Florida lab, Dr. Mark Brenner evaluates sediment cores which have produced new data that suggests climate—specifically, severe drought—played a key role in the decline of Maya civilization. This segment of Quest for the Lost Maya outlines how scientists use snail shells and sediment layers from the bottom of a lake to create a picture of climate conditions at various periods in the ancient past. Brenner discovers that the lake's water levels dropped drastically at the same time as the Maya collapse. He examines oxygen isotopes in the chemical makeup of snail shells found in the sediment, which point to a series of multi-year droughts prior to this collapse.

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        Mayan Caves: Places of Sacred Rituals

        This National Geographic video segment explores the significance of caves in ancient Mayan culture. Archaeologist Fatima Tec Poole investigates a cave in the Yucatan Peninsula of Mexico that was likely once an important site of Mayan pilgrimage and ritual. Pottery sherds, layers of soot, and distinctive paintings indicate the division of a smaller, sacred space inside the larger public space of the cave. Tec Poole explains that the Maya lit torches, performed rituals, and made offerings in caves because they believed that they were the dwelling place of gods.

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        Clues to Mayan Prosperity

        In this National Geographic video segment from Quest for the Lost Maya, archaeologist Stephanie Simms analyzes teeth from a human burial found at an ancient Mayan site. Scientific analysis of teeth can yield valuable data about what life was like for residents of the "Stairway Estate." The 1,200-year-old plaque contains traces of food, evidence of the Mayan diet. Analysis of the plaque reveals the Mayan diet was rich and diverse, and included many more plant-based foods than originally predicted. Some of these fruits and vegetables include squash, beans, tree fruit, and chili peppers. Evidence suggests ancient Mayans were skilled cooks who used a wide variety of foods and spices. Simms says that the discovery of diverse food particles on the ancient teeth suggests that Stairway to Heaven inhabitants owned large farms in the valley below. Some of the teeth have been filed, which means that they were probably previously inlaid with jewels. Due to these signs of widespread wealth, scientists believe that this region may have been the first middle class in America.

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        Modern Day Maya

        This National Geographic video segment of Quest for the Lost Maya explores the so-called collapse of Mayan civilization. Despite popular belief, the Maya remain an important part of the human geography of the Yucatan. The original Maya people struggled with droughts related to climate change, the collapse of their civilization, and European conquest, but their history lives on in the lives of their ancestors.

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