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Prehistoric Footpaths Lure Archaeologists Back To Costa Rica - UPDATES


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Bianca
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« on: November 06, 2008, 10:14:53 am »








                        Prehistoric Human Footpaths Lure Archaeologists Back To Costa Rica






ScienceDaily
(May 23, 2002) —

Ancient, buried footpaths visible using satellite instruments but invisible on the ground to the human eye will be studied in Costa Rica this summer after a 20-year hiatus by University of Colorado at Boulder and NASA archaeologists.

Images of the footpaths, some dating to 2,500 years ago, were first made in 1984 by a NASA aircraft equipped with a suite of instruments that can “see” in the electromagnetic spectrum invisible to humans, said CU-Boulder anthropology Professor Payson Sheets. Sheets and NASA archaeologist Tom Sever, a CU-Boulder graduate, used the data to pinpoint the footpaths in the Arenal region of central Costa Rica.

The researchers have been able to date the ancient paths using stratigraphy gleaned from the Arenal volcano, which has erupted10 times in the last 4,000 years. Excavations of the footpaths, covered by as much as six feet of volcanic ash, sediment and vegetation, turned up floors of ancient houses, as well as stone tools and pottery.

Last year, a commercial satellite known as IKONOS, designed and built by Space Imaging of Denver, took images of the footpaths in the visual and infrared portions of the light spectrum. Because the buried footpaths seem to have more vegetation growing over them and a thicker matrix of plant roots beneath the soil, the infrared instrument on IKONOS picked up a unique spectroscopic “signature” that caused the paths to show up as thin red lines in the images.

“Remote sensing has been used to detect ancient Roman roads, large prehistoric roads around Chaco Canyon in New Mexico and Incan roads,” said Sheets. “But we had no idea it would be possible to image these little erosional footpaths. It is an exciting find with potential archaeological applications to other areas of the world.”

The two-year project is funded by a $103,000 grant from the National Science Foundation. NASA also purchased $20,000 worth of IKONOS images for the team.

Previous work by Sheets’ team indicates footpaths link an ancient cemetery to construction stone quarries and a spring. The team will use Global Positioning System equipment this season to pinpoint various archaeological anomalies.

“One of our primary goals is to better understand the activities at the cemetery,” said Sheets, who noted the ancient dead were placed in coffins made of stone hauled in from several miles away. In addition, funerary ceramics and cooking and food-serving vessels, as well as many whole and fractured cooking stones, indicate the people camped, cooked and feasted at the cemetery for extended periods.

“There seems to have been a supernatural component to their behavior,” he said. “The people likely saw the graveyard as an access to the spirits of their ancestors.”

A primary question the team hopes to answer is whether the cemetery was used by one or more villages, he said. If it was used by more than one village, then the feasting could have integrated different village societies by facilitating organized labor, inter-village marriages, surplus food production, new alliances and trade.

A newly identified footpath discovered with IKONOS leads perpendicular to the primary graveyard path and may indicate more than one village was involved in the feasting rituals, said Sheets. The team will spend two months in the Arenal region, following the footpaths that conceivably could lead to villages.

CU-Boulder doctoral students Derek Hamilton and Devon White and master’s candidate Errin Weller will accompany Sheets to the site. In addition, CU undergraduate Michelle Butler will be part of the excavation team as a result of funding through the NSF Research Experience for Undergraduates program.

Sever will be accompanied by NASA technician Dan Irwin. The team also will hire several local residents and involve Costa Rican archaeologists to assist in the project. The team will be in Costa Rica from about June 1 to Aug. 1.

The Costa Rican people established village life in the Arenal region about 4,000 years ago and maintained it up to the Spanish Conquest at about 1500, outlasting both the nearby Aztecs and Mayans “with a tremendous continuity of culture,” said Sheets. They apparently avoided the disastrous eruptions of the Arenal Volcano, returning after the events to farm corn and beans in the nutrient-rich volcanic soil.

“They inhabited a very large region and seemed to avoid conflict, conquest and serious disease,” Sheets said. “They appear to have led comfortable lives, relying on an abundance of natural resources and a stable culture.”



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Adapted from materials provided by University Of Colorado At Boulder.
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 MLA University Of Colorado At Boulder (2002, May 23). Prehistoric Human Footpaths Lure Archaeologists Back To Costa Rica. ScienceDaily. Retrieved November 6, 2008, from




http://www.sciencedaily.com­ /releases/2002/05/020521071618.htm
« Last Edit: November 06, 2008, 10:40:51 am by Bianca » Report Spam   Logged

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Bianca
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« Reply #1 on: November 06, 2008, 10:27:56 am »









               Prehistoric Footpaths In Costa Rica Indicate Intimate Ties With Villages, Cemeteries






ScienceDaily
(Oct. 8, 2003) —

New findings by the University of Colorado at Boulder indicate tiny footpaths traveled by Costa Rican people 1,500 years ago were precursors to wide, deep and ritualistic roadways 500 years later leading to and from cemeteries and villages.

During the past two years, a team of graduate students, NASA archaeologists and remote sensing specialists led by Professor Payson Sheets spent much of their time mapping the small footpaths, many of which are invisible on the ground but visible by satellites. The team noticed portions of some footpaths were worn up to 3 meters deep by people who had trod them over the centuries approaching some of the cemeteries.

"People traveling such a path would see nothing of the cemetery until they actually entered it," said Sheets. "I suspect, inadvertently, this developed into a cultural expectation, a norm, that gained religious importance as the proper way to enter and exit a cemetery."

The team also found a "sub-path" -- a perpendicular spur off the main path -- that went straight up a hillside. The top of that hill is the only locality in the region from which people could view a particular cemetery known as Silencio from afar. In one case a village and a cemetery less than a mile apart had a hill in between them.

Instead of taking the path of least resistance and walking around the hill, they plodded up and over the top of the hill, creating a straight, deeply worn path opening right into the cemetery entrance, said Sheets.

A good example is the Poma cemetery in the Arenal Volcano region in the northwest Costa Rican rainforest, he said. There, two parallel footpaths eroded down about 2 meters, which eventually melded into one path and provided "entrenched exit and entry to the cemetery." Next year the team plans to trace the footpath back to the village of origin.

Sheets believes this beeline style to enter and exit cemeteries and villages became widespread over the centuries, when more complex societies took it to a higher level by constructing long, sunken roadways entering and exiting villages and cemeteries. A primary roadway from the Cutris site, for instance, which runs straight for many kilometers from the center, was excavated and found to be 30 meters to 40 meters wide and 3 meters to 4 meters deep as it entered the chiefdom center, home of the elite village rulers. 
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Bianca
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« Reply #2 on: November 06, 2008, 10:31:23 am »









"It appears that the cemetery was not the only sacred place, but so was the territory between the village and the cemetery, and the proper path use was to access the cemetery along precisely the same path used by their ancestors," he said. "The process of entering and leaving cemeteries was part of a belief system that included ceremonial feasting, tomb construction and the breaking of special pottery, grinding stones and other ritual activities at the cemeteries," said Sheets.

Images of the tiny footpaths, some 1,500 years old, were made by a NASA aircraft and the commercial satellite, IKONOS, equipped with instruments that can "see" in the light spectrum invisible to humans. The infrared cameras picked up a unique "signature" that caused the paths to show up as thin red lines in the images.

Packing satellite data and GPS satellite receivers, Sheets, NASA archaeologist Tom Sever, NASA remote-sensing specialist Dan Irwin and CU students Errin Weller, Michelle Butler and Devin White took off on the trail of the ancient ones last summer.

One surprise was that about 90 percent of the ancient pottery sherds from the cemeteries apparently were brought in by people on the Pacific side of the drainage who toted them on paths to the cemetery.

"This is a fascinating situation," said Sheets. "It appears these people may have had a much more complex network of social, economic and religious contact between isolated villages on both sides of the divide than we would have expected."

The sherds evidence collected in late July indicated ceremonial funerals and elaborate feasting after burial -- which included cooking, eating, drinking, sleeping and the smashing of elaborate pots and stones on graves -- may have included very disparate groups.

"My research interests include understanding the everyday lives of ancient people and applying remote-sensing techniques to locate prehistoric sites," said doctoral student Errin Weller. "My experiences in central Costa Rica with CU-Boulder and NASA participants provided a singular opportunity to combine the use of high-resolution satellite imagery and archaeology."

Master's student Michelle Butler who plotted specific points along the footpath with GPS satellite receivers as part of her work, said the high-tech tools have a huge future in archaeology. "Being able to pinpoint paths and cemeteries used by people over 1,000 years ago is exciting work, and helps us develop a much better picture of who these people were and how they used the landscape."


--------------------------------------------------------------------------------

Adapted from materials provided by University Of Colorado At Boulder.
Need to cite this story in your essay, paper, or report? Use one of the following formats:
 APA

 MLA University Of Colorado At Boulder (2003, October . Prehistoric Footpaths In Costa Rica Indicate Intimate Ties With Villages, Cemeteries. ScienceDaily. Retrieved November 6, 2008, from



http://www.sciencedaily.com­ /releases/2003/10/031008064657.htm



http://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2003/10/031008064657.htm
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Bianca
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« Reply #3 on: November 06, 2008, 10:42:02 am »





               

A researcher retraces an ancient Costa Rican footpath under study by CU-Boulder and NASA researchers using satellite and video-game technology.

(Photo courtesy of
Payson Sheets, CU-Boulder)









         Researchers Track Movements Of Ancient Central Americans Using Satellites,

         Video-game Technology







ScienceDaily
(Jan. 4, 2007) —

Satellite imagery meshed with video-game technology is allowing University of Colorado at Boulder and NASA researchers to virtually "fly" along footpaths used by Central Americans 2,000 years ago on spiritual pilgrimages
to ancestral cemeteries.

The effort has allowed researchers to trace the movements of ancient people in the Arenal region of present-day Costa Rica, who used single-file paths to navigate rugged terrain between small villages and cemeteries over the centuries, said CU-Boulder Professor Payson Sheets. The repeated use of the footpaths caused erosion resulting in narrow trenches in the landscape up to 10 feet deep.

The evidence now indicates people re-used the same processional routes for more than 1,000 years, returning
to them despite periodic abandonment of villages caused by recurring violent eruptions of the nearby Arenal Volcano, he said. Sheets gave a presentation on the subject at the 2nd International Conference on Remote Sensing in Archaeology held in Rome from Dec. 4 to Dec. 7.

The researchers have traced one processional path from a village on the Caribbean side of northern Costa Rica over the Continental Divide to a cemetery about 10 miles away using infrared satellite images that indicated characteristic signatures of plant growth, he said. The eroded footpaths -- some virtually invisible to observers on the ground -- collect water that stimulates increased root growth in the vegetation that appears in the images as reddish lines, said Sheets.

"This project has been a huge surprise," said Sheets. "Modern technology has allowed for the discovery and study of 2,000-year-old footpaths in the tropics where the ground is covered by thick vegetation and multiple layers of ash from prehistoric volcanic eruptions."

Software originally developed for video games lets the researchers fly along the footpaths at various altitudes, directions and tilt angles and zoom in on particular landscape features, said Sheets. The team has been able
to pinpoint sources of stone used to construct elaborate graves and to confirm springs used for water during ritualistic feasting ceremonies at the cemeteries that lasted for days on end.
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Bianca
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« Reply #4 on: November 06, 2008, 10:44:11 am »










"We now know some villages adapted to volcanic eruptions at least four times, retracing the same footpaths to their cemeteries," he said. "We would never have known this without the imagery, and it indicates to me they had a deep need to contact and re-contact spirits of dead ancestors by attempting to access the supernatural."

Sheets has been collaborating with NASA archaeologist Tom Sever -- who earned his doctorate in anthropology at CU-Boulder in 1990 -- as well as a number of CU-Boulder undergraduate and graduate students during the past several years. The project has been supported primarily by the National Science Foundation and NASA.

Images of the footpaths were made by various NASA satellites and aircraft and by a commercial satellite known as IKONOS. Built by Space Imaging of Denver, IKONOS has a resolution of less than one meter and is equipped with infrared sensors that can peer through deep jungle foliage. The team used computer software known as TerraBuilder, a 3-D terrain construction application created by Skyline Software Corp. of Reston, Va., and provided free to the researchers, Sheets said.

The footpaths lead from villages occupied from roughly 500 B.C. to 600 A.D to dozens of small cemeteries in the region, where archaeological evidence indicates visitors cooked, ate, drank, slept and ritually smashed pots on the stone slab-covered graves to commemorate the deceased, he said.

The 3-D visualization project allows users to experience the viewpoint of villagers as they strode out of narrow, subterranean footpaths into the graveyards, a process he likened to "emerging from a tunnel," he said. Subsequently, more complex prehistoric cultures in the region took the concept a step further by developing massive, sunken pathways with entryways wider than soccer fields that connected satellite communities with regional centers as a way to "magnify monumentality," he said.

"Architecture, economics and political structure have traditionally been the brick and mortar of archaeologists," said Sheets. "But here we are using sophisticated technology to probe religion and cosmology of an ancient people, and have found the spiritual aspects of the paths were more important than their practical aspects."

While prehistoric volcanic eruptions in Mesoamerica caused huge social disruption in highly structured societies like the Maya and Aztec, simpler societies like those in the Arenal region were much more resilient, Sheets said. Low population densities, "refuge" areas safe from volcanic activity, a reliance on wild food and a family and village-level political system rather than a highly centralized authority probably helped ensure their survival over the centuries, he said.

The footpaths leading to the cemeteries seem to have been viewed by the ancient villagers as "living entities" and may have been a primary reason they reoccupied the same villages time after time following devastating eruptions of Arenal, said Sheets.

CU-Boulder anthropology doctoral student Errin Weller, who has worked with the team on horseback and foot as they compared satellite data with archaeological evidence on the ground, said modern remote sensing techniques allow researchers to better understand the everyday lives of ancient people.


--------------------------------------------------------------------------------





Adapted from materials provided by University of Colorado at Boulder.
Need to cite this story in your essay, paper, or report? Use one of the following formats:
 APA

 MLA University of Colorado at Boulder (2007, January 4). Researchers Track Movements Of Ancient Central Americans Using Satellites, Video-game Technology. ScienceDaily.
Retrieved November 6, 2008, from




http://www.sciencedaily.com­ /releases/2007/01/070103110314.htm 
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