A few years ago, we were fortunate to be able to visit the Actun Tunichil Muknal (Cave of the Crystal Sepulchre, a.k.a. ATM) cave in Belize. It’s a 3-mile long wet cave (i.e., there’s a stream flowing through it), and a pretty “tough ticket” in that only a few guides are permitted to take tours through it — and the number of groups passing through on any given day are strictly limited. It’s a physically demanding visit, too — you wind up climbing over and under boulders, swimming a significant part of the way, etc.
But the restrictions are all for good reason. The cave was used for sacrificial offerings by the ancient Maya, largely during the classic period (roughly 250 – 900 AD). As the classic period wound down and the local situation worsened, increasingly dear sacrificial offerings were made increasingly far into the cave. Tours extend as far as “The Crystal Maiden,” the calcified skeletal remains of a teenage girl sacrificed near the end of the classic — but she is only one of 14 individuals whose remains have been found in the cave, and less macabre offerings predominate anyway.
Sadly, in 2012 a tourist dropped their camera on one of the 1,000 year old skulls in the cave and fractured it — the skull was repaired to some degree, but as a result of that one tourist’s inattention, visitors are no longer allowed to bring cameras into the cave.
One of the iconic sites at the ancient Maya ruins of Chichén Itzá, seen from its north end looking to the south:
For some reason, this view doesn’t show up as often as does its opposite from the south end of the field. Still, you can really get a feel for the ball court’s size — particularly since those are two people just to the right of this two-frame panorama’s center.
A straight-on frontal shot of the House of the Cenote, in the ancient Maya ruins of Tulum in Quintana Roo, Mexico:
No, it’s not the most artistic angle on this structure, but it does give you a good feeling for its size and design. This photo was shot from roughly the southeast (from the point of view of the sea, basically) and shows the face of the original part of the structure.
Some years later, a small shrine was added to the back of this building, directly over a small cenote that gives the whole construction its modern nickname.
This is the Denver-resident half of a pair of panels, which together tell a story of the still-lost Maya kingdom of Sak Tz’i’ (White Dog). We know the name of the site from inscriptions on the panels, it was once one of a number of kingdoms that battled along today’s Guatemala – Mexico border. But while we know the site’s name, and the rough area in which it was located (since its name glyph appears throughout the area), no one knows the location of Sak Tz’i’.
Such is the ambivalent nature of many ancient artifacts you can see in museums today. You get to see the artifacts, but many were ultimately purchased from looters (and by continuing such purchases, museums in the more-affluent parts of the world perpetuate the vicious cycle). By removing the panels from their original site, looters destroyed evidence about the site’s history.
The “marquis” structure at the ancient Maya ruins of Chichén Itzá, El Castillo (a.k.a. the Pyramid of Kukulkan):
What most tourist brochure photos don’t show you, though, are its two faces. The pyramid’s north and west sides have been fully restored (so, look as close to “new” as we can get), while the south and east sides have just been consolidated and stabilized (and so, look rougher). In the shot above, north is to the right — the pyramid’s north face is what you’ll most often see on postcards and such.
With a bit of help from some HDR software (NIK HDR Efex Pro), here’s a scene of building storm clouds behind the Temple of the Seven Dolls at the ancient Maya ruins of Dzibilchaltún:
As I mentioned in a previous post, you can’t climb the steps of this structure any more. Still, there’s plenty of cleared and accessible space available around it — so it’s not too tough to make a good photo of it. Here, one of the structures called “Adjoining Rooms” blocks your view of the fencing around the Temple’s base.
I made this photo from just west of Structure 12 (which is also now fenced off). On spring and autumn equinoxes, the Sun rises in the temple’s door, directly in line with the stela that frames the left side of this image. As you might imagine, that means those dates are quite crowded ones at this (normally sparsely visited) site.
It’s the Temple of the Frescoes, in the ancient Maya ruins of Tulum, Mexico:
Compare it to a photo from my previous visit, and you can see there’s been an unfortunate addition during the past few years — bracing in a couple of the doorways over on the photo’s left. Apparently, the structure’s developing some structural issues — hopefully they can be addressed without too much change to the building.
The star attraction at the ancient Maya ruins of Dzibilchaltún, Yucatán, Mexico:
The Temple of the Seven Dolls was named for some small clay figurines found in an offering under its floor. Sadly, a fence now keeps visitors from climbing its steps, much less looking inside the structure (likely due to vandalism seen at other well-visited sites).
Life’s been a bit busy for us lately, but we managed to run off into the mountains for a little R&R over the July 4th extended weekend. Â One of our stops was the neat little ghost town of Ashcroft, near Aspen. Â On our way through the sights, my daughter alerted me to this little hummingbird perched on an old bit of wood.
Fortunately for me, this little guy was very patient on his perch — alert and watchful, but never startling or making any apparent move to fly off.
Seen in the ancient Maya ruins of Calakmul, Mexico — five stelae at the foot of Structure II:
Calakmul has no shortage of the vertical monuments called stelae, 117 at last count (the most of any site in the region). Â Sadly, the local limestone is fairly soft, so most of them are eroded to the point where much of the once-rich detail has been lost to weathering. Â But they can still make strong elements of a photographic composition if you’re careful with the lighting you’re working with.