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.
Seen at the Maya: Hidden Worlds Revealed exhibit at the Denver Museum of Nature and Science.
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.
Along with all the amazing ruins, the ancient Maya site of Palenque also offers some really nice waterfalls not too far from the site center. Dubbed the “Queen’s Bath,” it’s actually a series of waterfalls with terraces. It can be a really amazing thing to see and photograph.
But can it ever change its appearance with the seasons.
Our most recent trip to Palenque was timed to fall just after the end of the wet season, in early December. Enough water was flowing in the Otolum creek to give the Queen’s Bath some life:
Note that this is a 1/13 second exposure, so you can see that you can get some nice blurring of the water without a tripod (note that you can’t use a tripod in the ruins without a permit requiring paperwork in advance, etc.). At least, an exposure like this will work if your camera or lens offers image stabilization.
For comparison’s sake, here’s a shot taken from nearly the same spot two years earlier (but at the end of the dry season, in mid-May):
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).
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.
An angled shot of Building 2 (Temple of the Cormorants) at the ancient Maya ruins of DzibanchÃ© in Quintana Roo, MÃ©xico:
DzibanchÃ© is an amazing little site to visit — it doesn’t get the press of the bigger sites (so there are never crowds), but it still has lots of interesting structures to see.
The Temple of the Cormorants is the site’s tallest structure, but sadly you can’t climb it. Â Still, plenty to see from ground level. Â This structure contains three burial chambers, one stacked atop the next in its core. Â In the bottom one, archaeologists found the tomb of a member of the city’s elite, with a wealth of grave goods — including a polychrome vessel decorated with cormorants (giving the structure its modern name).
This shot’s taken from the northwest of the building — even from here you can see some of the structure’s many layers of construction, and you can just make out the stucco carvings under the sheltering roofs along the steps on its side.
Seen in the ancient Maya ruins of Cobá, Quintana Roo, Mexico:
The more I read about Maya sites, the more complex I find the ball courts to be — or at least, the myriad forms they often take. If you’re curious, this ball court was built in an older, somewhat classic form — the side walls are mostly sloped, and the ends of the court are open. To take in this scene, though, you’re standing with a modern structure to your back — a covering for some pieces of sculpture. This calls for a wide lens, and a stitched multi-image panorama on top of it.
In Palenque‘s Cross Group ruins, the Temple of the Sun is definitely the “cover girl” of the group’s three structures. This is a bit ironic since it’s the shortest of the three temples, as it was dedicated to the most minor of Palenque’s triad of patron deities. But for one reason or another, it has weathered the intervening years more gracefully than have its siblings. So, its relatively good condition makes it the most photogenic member of the group.
This image was made from the steps of the tallest group member, the Temple of the Cross.