To undo the mischief wrought by Stephen Spielberg and Angela Jolie, Archaeology students must be carefully taught the work is about as romantic as Certified Public Accounting , focused on digging up data in dusty archives , not loot in tropical jungles. Yet this anti-cliche has its problems - neat stuff does end up underground , and lost mines ,and languages somehow manage to get lost .
And found -- Karl Taube with whom I've written on the Olmec mines discovery in Antiquity, and in the most recent monograph from Harvard's Dumbarton Oaks- http://www.doaks.org/OlmecArt.pdf
has just published another major Olmec find in Science, 5 September, P 1610 :
Oldest Writing in the New World
Ma.del Carmen Rodríguez Martínez, Ponciano Ortíz Ceballos, Michael D.Coe, Richard A.Diehl, Stephen D.Houston, Karl A. Taube, Alfredo Delgado Calderón
In 2001,we published the rediscovery of Guatemala's lost Olmec blue jade mines in Antiquity. That entailed a search that in criss-crossing backwoods Mesoamerica for 23 years naturally ran into its fair share of what Victorian archaeologists politely termed 'Incidents of Travel '- not just dead people and those who made them so- the Nicaraguan and Guatemalan civil wars were ongoing, but quite wonderful wildlife- from tropical birds and mountain dwelling crabs to walking luggage, and a nocturnal jaguar. While tarantulas were ( not dissapointingly ) rare , some of the visual cliche's make one wonder if Hollywood is asleep at its storyboards. Audiences should demand, and get, the debut of Guatemala's stunning Chinese landscape-style white limestone pinnacles,and barbed wire suspension bridges.
The best Maguffin we could come up with was a 300 tonne blue jade
boulder ( Lost mines are rarely small) but none of the jade ax and
idol blanks lying about that mountainous neighborhood came engraved
with inscriptions , Now Karl, Yale's Mike Coe
and the rest report a 26 pound,14 inch serpentine monolith found in
Mexico that bears 62 glyphs dating to circa 1000 BC- the heydey of blue
jade mining in Mesoamerica. All Mike, Karl et al. need now is an ark
to carry their Rosetta Stone off into the sunset.
That and an Olmec dictionary. There have been times when I could have killed Karl for letting jade fever afflicted rockhounds claim-jump deposits, but I don't envy his facing the risk of the first translation of the oldest Olmec document Here is John Wilfords take , with a good field drawing from the NYTimes- click it to enlarge
Rare-Jade Riddle Cracked In
1804 naturalist Alexander von Humboldt returned to France from the
Americas with jade artifacts crafted by the Olmecs. This pre-Mayan,
pre-Columbian culture had left behind statues and axes made of a
translucent blue-green jade found almost nowhere else in the world.
Today archaeologists know the Olmecs had stopped using the stone by
about 500 B.C. Later cultures favored other shades of jade, and the
blue-green version became known as Olmec blue. But the geological
source of the jade had never been found.
The Kunz Axe, a 3,000-year-old Olmec blue-jade sculpture, features a snarling creature that is part human, part jaguar.
Courtesy of The American Museum of Natural History, New York.
Rare-Jade Riddle Cracked In 1804 naturalist Alexander von Humboldt returned to France from the Americas with jade artifacts crafted by the Olmecs. This pre-Mayan, pre-Columbian culture had left behind statues and axes made of a translucent blue-green jade found almost nowhere else in the world. Today archaeologists know the Olmecs had stopped using the stone by about 500 B.C. Later cultures favored other shades of jade, and the blue-green version became known as Olmec blue. But the geological source of the jade had never been found.
Geophysicist Russell Seitz, field director of a study of Mesoamerican jade for Harvard's Peabody Museum, had spent years looking for the elusive transparent blue-green stone. By 1999, when he took his fiancée to Guatemala for a vacation, he had given up hope of finding the mother lode. Then, by chance, he stumbled upon half a dozen shops selling small items crafted from the blue-green gem: "It had become a cottage industry." It took him nine months to track down the jade miners, who finally agreed to lead him up into the mountains. There, at an elevation of 5,700 feet, he found "a giant, economy-size jade vein." Seitz returned several times before discovering the biggest boulders last January. Most of the jade he found is worthless. But one 300-ton monolith does contain three tons of the prized translucent blue-green mineral.
The find puts to rest one mystery but leaves many questions for archaeologists and pre-Columbian scholars, including: Why did the Olmecs stop carving jade? Perhaps their culture disappeared, or maybe the seams of jade that the Olmecs were mining, and the Olmec carvers themselves, were destroyed by volcanoes. "The deposits," says Seitz, "have been Pompeiied several times."
— Michael Abrams For more see 'Feeling Jaded ' item 4 in the _Science_ posts archive->