Tuesday, October 1, 2013

Genius of Landscape: Communal Built Environments and an Architectural Mystery in the Yucatan


Individuals, communities and societies build landscape. How societies form, how communities relate, what people do every day and all their lives reflects and builds landscape. Societies make landscape in different ways. All societies construct landscape communally. In fields, roads and cities, building and maintaining are collective endeavors. Tires, feet, exhaust – all part of a shared action – motion, erosion, corrosion. A pile of garbage, a garden, a coating of soot or fresh paint.


Prelude: Valladolid, a sleepy Yucatecan town, a place of conflict where the "caste wars" were fought by the Mayans, desperate for self-determination, economic and social freedom. Nightmares crawl up onto you from the blood spilled here.

Today Valladolid is cheerful, leafy and lively. Janet suggests we follow the "Route of Seven Churches" to get the lay of the land. First hesitating, then confidently, we follow the tourist information map. We see the spire of one church from the plaza of another churchwe visit. We drink a coke in the semi-shade of a tree filled with birds. 



We consider the flat landscape of Valladolid and its churches, every one replacing a Mayan pyramid. We reimagine the city in its Mayan incarnation, a different place but one still filled with people, markets, roadways and pyramids.

Continuation: Mérida, Yucatán’s capital, a pulsing city of over a million. Valladolid's “seven churches” are replaced by twenty or more. Walking the narrow colonial sidewalks, bathed in fumes from careening buses, this is a grey city for all its vibrancy, coated in the dust of exhaust and baked by tropical light. The buildings squat together in the hot light of noon or in late day shadows. Walking more than in Valladolid, we see more and we see less.

South of the city—a fork in the road. In ancient times, one road led to Ticul and trade in the interior, another to Campeche, the sea and beyond. Ancient geography superimposes itself. The modern place melts onto the bones of the old. Standing here, Mérida becomes real, not just a collection of shops, restaurants, hawkers, buses, trucks, and evening strollers. Mérida is history. What communal efforts built it?


The next day-a cool, rainy bus ride to Mayapán, supposedly the only Mayan ceremonial center that remained active into European times. At Mayapán – after a long ride into uncharted areas teeming with ruined pyramids in the middle of busy villages – we encounter a super deluxe coach carrying Germans, who have spilled onto the site. They are doing yoga on the buildings, kneeling and stuffing notes into cricks in the structures, possibly thinking about human sacrifice.

They leave, almost forgetting the smallest, weakest, oldest member of their group in her wheelchair. We have Mayapán to ourselves. In the wind and low sky of grey clouds, spitting raindrops, it is intense-- intensity of travel, intensity of site, intensity of an encounter with the plain lunacy of foreigners who travel with cognitive maps so clearly clashing with the place they visit. Mayapán looks like it was buried almost to the tips of its pyramids. It reminds us that much lies beneath.



On the bus back to Mérida we are chilled, tired and overwhelmed with the site, hard to interpret. In town we try for a Spanish (not Mexican) restaurant, are chased away by cigarette smoke and steep prices. We wander the downtown streets of Mérida hungry and thirsty, a head above the crowds that pack the workaday sidewalks. 

Janet points out a parking lot raised just above street level. On the far wall of the parking lot are two baroque columns, remains of a Spanish-era chapel. Why the chapel? And why is the parking lot raised in dead-flat Mérida? Obvious. It's sitting on temple ruins.


Is this whole city sitting on ruins? Is Mayapán, ruins itself, sitting on even deeper ruins? What about Valladolid and the surrounding villages? Is there any place in the Yucatán not sitting on ruins? How did they come to be buried? Some we know were recycled—contemporary roadside walls built from the whitewashed sacbeob stones, churches constructed from the rocks of temples and pyramids.



But the puzzle I've been trying to solve since I first came to the Yucatán: stucco walls decorated playfully, skillfully, boldly, with what appear to be random stone chips.




Experiment: Ceramics Studio, Boston University. Up here on the fifth floor I've been venting my creative instincts, finding new colleagues and new ways to play with clay, struggling with a project referencing the pillars of Ake, near Mérida, where I took dozens of photographs of amazing, outsized, isolated, windswept, sculptural stone pillars.




My ceramics experiment is a mixed bag. None of my miniature pillars sing with the energy and awareness of the real thing. I decide to carve, painstakingly, chipping off pieces of my small, imitation Ake pillars, coming to grips with the shape of the rocks I'm trying to depict, building a pile of random leather-hard clay chips—chips that look exactly like the random stone chips of the stucco walls in Valladolid. I return to my Flickr site, where I've faithfully recorded every picture that's worth sharing of my time in Mexico. I stare, breathless, at a wall in Downtown, Mérida, whitewashed but grey with soot and smoke, chock full of tightly packed, random-looking stones.


But those stones weren't random. They littered the streets of Valladolid (not yet Valladolid), and they littered the streets of Mérida (not yet Mérida), when the Spanish arrived. They were the chips left by generations of stonecutters – hundreds of years' worth – who trimmed the stones that built the temples, evidence of collective human work on the landscape. Colonists incorporated the chips into their stucco, and there they sit. Puzzle solved.

The ancestors of today's Mayans built a landscape of glorious cities of worship and power. The by-product: unassuming chipped stones piled in the streets, created over ages by many hands. The collective goal of the Mayan civilization was the building and upkeep of those cities. Every hand in society supported the priests, sacrifices and physical presence of the cities of ritual that became Valladolid and Mérida. Temples and pyramids were built from stones trimmed and chipped near these sites for hundreds of years. Landscape: a collective human endeavor.

Postlude: A visit to New York City and Ground Zero. "Occupiers" are still stationed at Zuccotti Park, a few steps away. The horrible, scarred landscape, the hole, the crowds, the bronze bas-relief of heroes of the NYPD, overwhelmed by a calamity beyond their ken and beyond their means to ameliorate. Yet all around the scene of disaster, all around the milling people, all surrounding the Occupy protesters soars the landscape of Wall Street, which we as a society continue to build with all our focus. Cranes pushing skyward, the landscape of the financial apparatus is the centerpiece of our communal efforts. Whatever we save, buy, eat or “invest” contributes to those buildings, to that financial "community.” I realize with a dollop of shame that these towers are our pyramids, this landscape of greed our bequest to the future.

This appeared as an article in Arcade Magazine 31:4

60 comments:

  1. A very enjoyable and fascinating article, thanks for sharing your travel experiences and thoughts about Yucatán.

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  3. Hi Professor Hammer,
    Such an amazing and informative post! I think one of the things that surprised me while reading was the fact that the German tourists you encountered in Mayapan were doing yoga on a former site of human sacrifice. The irony being that post their mindful practice, they verged on committing a similar crime by almost leaving one of their group behind!
    Besides this, however, I think what struck me was how the article managed to bring home the concepts presented in this week’s lecture material, specifically regarding the terms phenomenology and palimpsest. With phenomenology involving learning about the world through our own experience, it’s easy to see how societies can fundamentally alter the landscape over time. As each group of people only know their surroundings through the legacy of those that went before, new generations have the opportunity to innovate by building upon the foundations of the past. This phenomenological aspect really stood out to me as you explained how the Colonists cleverly recycled the Mayan stone-cutter's chips. Where the latter group had no need for them in the world as they knew it, the former group found that this by-product could be used to decorate their modern versions of “temples and pyramids”! Therefore the chips, to me, seem to symbolize the “collective human endeavor” that is the changing face of our landscape, with each sliver being representative of an individual’s contribution to that process. With this in mind, the notion of palimpsest (i.e. where the existence of bygone worlds are evidenced everywhere) becomes much more comprehensible.
    In effect, both terms help one to truly understand why such changes occur, and why churches sit on top of temples, which in turn, sit on top of more ruins!
    Best,
    Emily.

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  4. Dr. Hammer, you have an uncanny ability to make your reader feel transported to not only the places you describe, but also the emotions and feelings that accompany traveling. A couple things surprised me about this post. First, your description of the German tourists at Mayapan. Riding a super deluxe coach only to practice yoga once disembarking—it seems a bit of a juxtaposition to me. On one hand you have the super deluxe coach, with all the amenities of the modern world, almost insulating the traveler; a cocoon of modern technology shielding passengers from the ancient world around them. And yoga, an ancient practice meant to harmonize the individual with their own mind, body, and spirit, as well as the world around them. What does this say about people? We often hear quotes like “the journey is more important than the destination” and whatnot. So, does how we travel to certain destinations impact our behaviors and emotions after arrival?

    Second, your description of New York’s financial center as our new “pyramids” struck a chord with me. A couple weeks ago I had the opportunity to wander around Washington D.C. by myself one Friday afternoon. I hadn’t been there in 15 years and couldn’t remember much about my last visit. For awhile, I just sort of walked around amazed at the majesty of the government buildings. After reading your post it occurred to me you might be right—are skyscrapers and government buildings our new “pyramids”? People travel from far away to see them—I heard more languages spoken in front of the White House than I ever have walking through Logan Airport. Furthermore, should we view these buildings in the same regard we view actual pyramids?

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  5. What surprised me the most about this post is that there was no reverence made to these ancient stone chips. The stone chips that came from the hands of people that lived before technical advances. Chipping away at stone is a very arduous tasks and I an only imagine they only hand other stones to use to cut away at the stones. These artisans of the past had so much skill that I am sure no one nowadays would want to replicate because it may be very dangerous or at least painful. I have such high respect for the people that can before us especially the civilizations like the Mayan that truly lived life to the fullest because they did not have the luxury of technology to say the least. I do revere the Spaniards in a more dull way. However, I do respect them because they have added to our society in many ways. Even though, they were opportunist to the fullest, the Spaniards still allowed to keep the past alive in a more indirect way. The Spanish colonizers, like all good colonizers, had a way to mix in their forced culture on to the native people by allowing the indigenous people to carry on their traditions as long as they also celebrated the colonist’s tradition. I am not surprise that the Spanish colonists used the stone chips in the stucco for the churches they were making.

    There were a few more statements in the post that I was surprised or peaked my curiosity when I read it. Why were you looking for Spanish food and not Mexican? Were you looking for a particular Spanish dish like Paella or Spanish style tortilla? That stood out to me because I am of Spanish descent and I bet the Mexican were a little insulted because they do consider themselves as having Spanish food in their cuisine.

    In addition, I was surprised that you called the Wall Street area " landscape of greed". I look at this landscape as accomplishments. Our diversity and ability to continue with our heads up after devastation ranging from human destruction to natural forces is something we should hold in high regards. This city is reminder that we can accomplish anything we put our minds to. I am a first generation American and native New Yorker and I love my city because I know how difficult it is to live there and I grew up knowing that it was built by hard working people mostly immigrants who could not even speak the language or understand the culture much. They came looking for a better life for themselves and future generations. This city's landscape is a true testament of their hopes and aspirations.

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  6. Hi Prof. Hammer,

    I enjoyed reading your article and the pictures are amazing. As you point out, you tried to recreate the pillars and the stone chips from your trip. Even though you got close nothing is ever like the original, which was baked in “layered” into the landscapes after many years. It is hard to recreate something that came by from the passage in time. Just like the “pyramids” in Wall Street that has/will have a layer upon layer of history and changes through the evolving landscape and human intervention.

    Regards,
    Leticia

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  7. Dr. Hammer,
    Thank you for sharing your visit to the Yucatan. As others have commented, your writing has a particular ability to transport your readers along with you!
    This post was a great illustration that we are all a part of the creation and maintenance of our landscape. Even if we aim to destroy one, we are but creating an alternate version.
    I very much enjoyed reading my classmate's comments as well. I especially appreciated Emily's contribution. I hadn't yet realized the parallels between this post and phenomenology and palimpsest, so I appreciated Emily drawing them out!
    Kind regards,
    Kayali Lenssen

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  8. Are you sure the Germans almost left the wheel chair bound lady on accident? They were reflecting on human sacrifice after all...

    I was really struck by the comments you made about our "modern pyramids." As we know the Mayans, Egyptians, etc, built all their idolatry based on a sincere belief in a higher power. However, in the US we build skyscrapers and suspension bridges, not in deference to a spiritual being, but rather to boast and promulgate accomplishment. In the context of the Mayan endevour, our pyramids worship a false idol - money.

    Lastly, I was really struck by the photo the chipped pieces of stone. The idea that something that was dismissed as debris as part of an effort to build something beautiful, resulted in its own beautiful art is really cool.

    Tom Johnston

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  9. Nice article. The portion that stuck out to me was the financial monument that we are leaving behind. I have to wonder, what else are we leaving? What are the marks that our civilization will be remembered for? I look at the places built and the monuments of the past with less technology and marvel how they were able to get together and accomplish so much. The last portion of the random stones was great. Even the scraps of the past are of value today. Those pieces that littered the street, still has value today. It always strikes me that when we talk about the great of the greats; we pull those from our past. However, what great contribution are we making to society? We have so much more knowledge, yet are more closed in with the smartphones of the world turning our attention more inward. Will we be know for the occupy Wall Street type of movements? Are we the generation with so much but contributed so little? Interesting that a parking lot and perhaps an entire city is built on so many priceless artifacts. Talk about discovering and opening your eyes to the landscape! Interesting article and definitely stimulates the mind.

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  10. A few things surprised me in this post. First, I'm surprised that you are a scientist and not a writer or artist because you have such a masterful way of painting a word picture. Apparently some people are gifted in all areas. Next, the parking structure on the ruins of a temple was both shocking and funny to me. When you live in the midst of historical ruins it seems easy to take it for granted. The temple has seemingly outlived its usefulness. It highlights that what is so important to one generation is just paved over as irrelevant by the next generation. Lastly, and it's been mentioned before, I chuckled at the German tourists doing yoga on the temple ruins. At first I was taken aback, then I remembered my son and a friend's husband improvising a scene from Titanic (where they are standing on the bow of the ship) from atop temple ruins in Cozumel. So, I don't have any standing to take offense. I loved the close-up photos showing the patterns in the walls. This course is already making me take a closer look at everything around me, something my grandma taught me but I'd gotten away from. I love it!

    Jen Knight

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  12. Your article brought me the faint nostalgic feelings of a few of trips I took to Mexico and outskirts of Seoul, South Korea before. These two places have different culture, the smell, taste and even the color of the sunset horizons were different. However, I was able to parse out some trail of a human stain or remnant from the past that have similar patterns in two cities. I couldn't grasp what that was all about back then.

    Now, I can relate my experience with this article back to your notes that references to the palimpsest that you emphasized a few times. The Spanish conquistadores used the existing chipped stones on their bringings. Further out in more recent phenomenon about the parking lot on the ancient ruins. I looked at these sighting with colored shade before. I used to get so mad about how and why they would do such things to ruin the esthetically pleasing and historically significant. Now, I am looking at a totally different angle where this is how we are. This blog swayed me again to think this is how landscape changes and as a human, we are part of the changes.

    I do appreciate your detail observations on matters and curiosity that you brought from the old city. And thanks for making my eyes open to observe in different angle which I never allowed myself to.

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  13. Hi Dr. Hammer,
    I found your blog very interesting in that it brought to mind and reinforced the greater meaning of landscape – the very conceptualization of human culture. As you noted in your postlude, not just the physical buildings of our endeavors, but just as importantly what they represent. Whether it be the temples and sacrificial altars so integral to ancient Mayan society or the modern American high rises that stand as monuments to a society entrenched in capitalism, the physical landscape is indeed a “palimpsest” of our actions and experiences (our whole existence as a species), and our historical narrative from culture to culture and era to era, each building upon and taking from past generations. In many ways the landscape bears just as much a testament and a preserved record of our human history as it provides a fossil record for other organisms.

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  14. Great blog post! I absolutely love Mexico. It is full of rich history and to me very humble in its nature. Unlike the European cities I have visited, Mexico’s old relics from previous civilizations seem to fade into its current landscape and are swallowed up into the lives of the Mexican people. There are no ropes to keep you away, no signs to stop the flashes of cameras; for the most part, you can touch and feel the physical history of Mexico without the formality of other places. Although there are many beautiful museums in Mexico, there is much to learn just walking the city streets and driving through the jungles. The parking lot over a Chapel built on old temple ruins is an example of how life just goes on as if there is nothing special about the old – they just become part of the new way of life. I wonder how many people park up there every day and have never stopped to think about those who worshiped there many years before them. Before I started reading, I scanned all the pictures. I was surprised at how much my view changed of the picture of the fork in the road after I actually read the post. Awareness can change the way you view your landscape. When I first looked at the picture, I noticed the tree in front of the building and the yellow and pink colored buildings to the left. After, I imagined coming to the fork in the road and seeing adventure before me and a decision between the sea and possibly a bustling trade city. With a little history and understanding, you can transform your own landscape before your eyes.
    -Miranda

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    1. Hi Miranda-
      This is exactly what will happen in this class! While books and museums are important tools, in this class we will use our own senses: touch, sight, small, sound - to get into the un-roped off areas of our world to learn. We ARE the scientists!
      B

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  15. Amazing post!
    I would definitely want to make this trip sometime. I love the pictures and your description through your perspective. I was able to "see" what you saw. As you had mentioned about a city rebuilt on top of another it reminded me of Seattle, WA. Seattle is actually rebuilt on top of old ruins from the Great Fire that took out about 30 blocks and instead of the people rebuilding it they actually built on top of it with better materials so that the devastation does not happen again. There is a guided Seattle Underground tour so that you could see what it looked like in the 1800s, it is quite nifty and there is also the gum wall.
    I was actually surprised that Mexico does not preserve its building or landscapes like they do when you go to Rome, Italy and see the Colosseum and Roman Forum. That the Italians try to keep much of it intact as possible for generations to view the history of Italy, rather than keeping pieces of it in the museums or books. With every city or country, one does try to keep up with the current economy and human interventions to make the city better. I did like that you tried recreating what you saw in ceramics class and that your curiosity about the stone chips was answered when you started making your own stone chips from etching the pillars. :)

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  16. Dr. Hammer,

    Interesting read. I am surprised of your feelings of shame in regards to the modern construction of the skyscrapers of Wall Street. Ancient temples built to celebrate human sacrifice and polytheism are to be idolized yet modern feats of architecture and engineer are shameful because they are built by financial companies? I guess it really bothers me when ancient cultures are juxtaposed to modern in an effort to lay claim that the modern is somehow deficient or worse. Of course we should look with amazement at what the ancient cultures were able to achieve, but doing so by taking cheap shots at modernity is unnecessary.

    Jordan Neufeld

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  17. Dear Dr. Hammer,

    Loved reading your descriptive and captivating blog! You not only visit these incredible places but also absorb yourself into their landscapes. Instead of the obvious, you focus on the small details within the culture and landscape - such as the stone chips.

    What I found most fascinating was how each generation and civilization that came to live in this city made sure to preserve and enhance what was already there. By adding to the landscape, each generation left their mark. Furthermore, they took pride in their city and ownership in its well-being. If everyone did that, the world would be a healthier and safe place to live!

    Best,
    Mehreen

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  18. Thank you for sharing your experience in the Yucatan peninsula. I hope that one day I will get to visit those sites as well as the Mayan history is deeply fascinating, however horrific it was at times. I have to say the last sentence of your article made me think of all of our human landscape creations versus the Mayan. Not knowing too much of Mayan history, but judging from the photos and what I had seen and read prior, I would say they designed their landscapes to worship their gods, the elements, the sun itself which helps nourish life. Whereas the modern landscape the humans have created leans more towards personal greed I would guess. The private homes are designed with every convenience and preferably with a multiple rooms, to those who can afford them, to ensure the humans can spread out and fill those rooms with additional possessions. The city landscape varies from outright ugly cement structures to strange creations of an architect hell-bent on bringing his odd abstract ideas to life. Often, however, we see the structures that shape our landscape which try to show the power and grandeur of humans. The buildings soar into the clouds, as in Dubai, Singapore, and now even in New York City. The financial districts often have buildings that look just as cold and unwelcoming as the money is itself.
    It is obvious that the Merida is a palimpsest, history hidden below history and modern structures built upon it. Outside of Merida, the city of London and the Tower of London could be considered great examples of this. The Tower itself was built in the 11th century by William the Conqueror and in the centuries that followed added additional structures, with continued restoration going on in the modern day.
    Many cities might not fare so well in preserving their history as there were plenty of centuries when whatever current government at the time deemed it better to demolish the old and build the new. China and its Cultural Revolution proved to be devastating to its history as many valuable historical artifacts and most likely buildings as well, were destroyed to pave a way for the new China.
    If we do not preserve the incredible historic sites like the Hadrian’s wall, Macchu Picchu, the Mayan ruins, the traditional Victorian architecture in New England, and more; years later the humans will only have the representations of the greedy need to conquer the world to the clouds, quite literally, as we see in so many futuristic films. Rarely do we see any historic sites well and preserved in those films.

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  19. Hi Dr. Hammer:
    Thank you for sharing such a detailed and all encompassing description of your landscape. Just as you questioned in your post regarding the possibility that the cities you visited were sitting upon ruins of previous cities and/or cultures. I have always found it interesting that different cultures and civilizations share many religious locations. What may have been a spiritual location for one culture ultimately becomes the same significance to a later civilization. I wonder if the parking lot which sits on an old Spanish church may have a Mayan temple underneath.

    -Eugene

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  20. Great article! I really enjoyed it and wish you were with me when I visited ChichénItzá while on a business trip to Cancun. What surprised me most about the article was the fact that previous societies have been covered over for new societies. I particularly like the point you made with your questions, “Is there any place in the Yucatán not sitting on ruins? How did they come to be buried?” It appears that it is easier, less expensive and faster to simply cover up the past with the present. Disregard old landscapes for what we need today. Out with the old, in with the new. This assessment begs additional questions, such as “Have we evolved to not respect, honor those who came before us? And, is this typical of generations past and future?” I think the answers are somewhat mixed, driven by specific cultures and societies, driven by available space and resources.

    When you consider a society which valued its place in the world and apparently took pride in itself – it is a shame when we consider just how disposable a society can become and how disposable we all become. But, nothing lasts forever. How the cities became covered over is the real question. Your statements are strong, “The collective goal of the Mayan civilization was the building and upkeep of those cities. Every hand in society supported the priests, sacrifices and physical presence of the cities of ritual that became Valladolid and Mérida.” When did that society just give up? Are there warning signs that we should be looking for today? I wonder when a society knows it’s time to let itself be buried. We clear out the ruins of homes, buildings and other structures which have become out of repair or out of date, replaced with new and improved structures, often with no reverence to our past.

    I don’t think we are that different from our ancestors, driven by our own wants, needs and desires. I think you are spot on when you write, “I realize with a dollop of shame that these towers are our pyramids, this landscape of greed our bequest to the future.” Is it human nature or is it simply what we have evolved to become? With any luck we can learn from the past to enhance our futures.

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  21. Interesting piece of writing and historical recreation. I most appreciate the connection you drew at the end between the Mayan pyramids and the modern wall street. If in fact the towers of New York city or here in Boston from which I write this reaction, are truly the center pieces of society , what does that say about us as a society. Any attempt to live a life uninfluenced by the past would prove futile. We have no choice but to move forward and build upon the fossils and experiences of the past.

    If one were to decide they were moving from the city landscapes of Dorchester in search of a more "pure" lifestyle of compost piles, and hunting and gathering for food. The question remains how would they travel without modern petroleum. Even if they are successful in their efforts, eventually the newly designed society would grow and develop leading to a simple recreation of things. Progress is inevitable and we should embrace it. Attempts to understand and respect the past like those described in this article are admirable, yet we can't lose sight of what lies ahead of us, while attempting to reflect on the past. IS380 Marcus W , , Thanks for the heads up about copying your comments.

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  22. Third try at trying to get my post to publish.:-)

    Hi Professor Hammer,

    I enjoyed reading your post and the amount of detail you provided of your trip. I think I was most surprised by the fact that you consider what is underground and not just what is visible on the surface. It's fascinating to think of what hidden treasures are underground and what secrets they reveal about our past landscape.

    Most people consider only what they can see easily and on the surface, but they miss out on a whole new world. I like the idea of looking at a rock or a piece of clay with the idea in mind that it is not just a physical object, but holds meaning about the landscape and how humans molded it.

    Best,

    Denise

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  23. Nice blog post Professor Hammer! I was surprised to hear about how so much of the ruins were still visible and the idea that there might be more ruins that might be underneath the city still. Interesting thoughts. Will we ever really know the answer to that?

    -Aaron

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  24. Dear Dr. Hammer,

    What a wonderfully written and thoughtful post! I see you have included an example of a “palimpsest” when describing the parking lot built over the ruins, which is a very interesting thing to ponder. As any conquering civilization considers itself superior to its predecessors, it makes sense that they would treat the artifacts of prior civilizations with callous disregard. It is only when a great deal of time has passed that the older civilization suddenly becomes a matter of scholarly interest. Second, I loved your “phenomological” attempt to recreate the stone pillars of Ake – and your subsequent disappointment at your creation, which is no disparagement of your artistry, but rather a nod to the astonishing amount of workmanship and effort that must have gone into creating the originals. The stone pillars of Ake do seem to stand with a certain majesty, and evoking that whisper of joy while stacking giant stones atop one another had to have been a feat of difficulty that I cannot even imagine.

    Thanks,
    Monica Zombori

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  25. Hey there Dr.Hammer!

    I enjoyed reading this post and what struck out to me the most were the artistic elements of the trip. The curves in the walls, the different colors in shades of greys and browns. I sometimes feel that such wall arts depict the culture and symbolisms of the society they are in.

    The city of Valladolid seems like an epitome. It represents the remaining culture of the past wars that have been fought and the entire vibe of the area from what I notice in the pictures is very cultural and informative. Informative in the sense that the history is conspicuous. For example the churches have old fashioned exterior that shows how architecture was back in the day.

    It's a blessing that everything was not completely wiped out and even if there was lack of maintenance, we have remains of the past. The roads remind me of Parisian streets, its so amazing how other cultures can blend with each other and have the same look in their pavements, streets, walls etc. The entire area is very gothic, and thus very beautiful!
    best
    Roshinda
    Group 1

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  26. Hi Dr. Hammer!
    Great article! Your photos and descriptions reminded me of a trip I took to Hermosillo, Mexico. I remember driving through the desert (looked very similar to your first photo) and seeing military tanks and trucks passing us. It’s amazing to me how such a beautiful country so rich with history, is going through such hard times. I’m glad to hear that Valladolid is on its way to becoming a better and “cheerful” city. I think it’s a beautiful thing that the city is trying to rebuild itself and make it a more “livable” area for its residents and even nice enough to attract tourists. I think it’s great you were able to find the palimpsests of that landscape and take pictures of them! How cool to have seen that in person! The remains of a previous landscape have always fascinated me. When I went to Nacozari, Mexico I saw many examples of this myself. I am not surprised that this village took the liberty of building on these ruins. I think it gives their village character, preserves the history, and its resourceful. This really makes you wonder what we are leaving behind in our landscape. Is any of it worth preserving? Would anyone in the future care and be in such awe with our skyscrapers as we are with the pyramids?

    -Calista Ruiz MET IS380 Group 2

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  27. ".....these towers are our pyramids...." A painful truth!

    I enjoyed reading this post and the thing that most surprised me was the parking lot built on Spanish ruins in Merida. It shouldn't really surprise me, but it seems we so often take for granted the deep history of what came before us, both historically and culturally. It saddens me to see sacred sites or structures that were such an integral part of a culture be decimated or cheapened by erecting seemingly meaningless structures. A parking lot. A strip mall. Luxury hotel resorts metastasizing over landscapes of natural untouched beauty.

    The post was thought provoking in that I wondered how these decisions are made whether in the Yucatan or the U.S. When does greed or industrialization win out over the meaningful history or culture of a collective. It often seems hit or miss and sometimes seems to depend on an impassioned group of people. Landscapes change. This can't be avoided. What I loved most about this post were the little gems of surprise that people leave behind to mark a point in time. The mystery of the stone craftsmanship was a highlight.

    This also made me think of a documentary watched recently that is all about the relationship between Landscape & Humans. It's the true story of 38 Ukranian Jews who hid out in a cave many of whom survived for nearly 2 years during the Holocaust. I would imagine you've seen it Dr. Hammer, but if you haven't I highly recommend. www.noplaceonearthfilm.com

    In many ways, archaeology, architecture, and landscapes are the closest thing we have to a Delorean time travel machine. And this blogpost is no different. Fascinating - thank you!

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  28. Hi Dr. Hammer,

    I really enjoyed your article. There were two things that got me thinking about humanity and our influence on the landscape: what lies beneath in terms of landscape and the recycling of landscapes in the Yucatan.

    Often when we look at landscapes or breathtaking vistas we fail to consider or reflect upon what lies beneath or how the landscape came to look as it does now. How the forces of the earth and the weather form that which we see. Similarly, we consider and admire the architectural beauty of recent structures, but we forget about the older and perhaps even grander ancient structure that stood there before. Each new culture wants to put their own stamp on the world and history is filled with famous sites that have continuously been built upon another in the name of a new religion or cause. We don’t seek to understand it because it’s different and sometimes frightening, so we cover it up and try to make it go away, but still use the popular space or vista as our building point as it’s familiar. Observing the details is important, but it’s also important to consider how it got there and what lies beneath. It leads us to a greater understanding of the environment and ourselves.

    Contradicting our aversion to what lies beneath and the greed of modern city landscapes, the people of Valladolid and Mérida recycled the stone chips left by generations and generations of stonecutters to put their own stamp on their city. They honored what came before and instead of wasting or destroying the work of others, used it in their own holistic way to beautifully impact and enhance their landscape. Actions like these, give us some small hope in humanity and our desire to honor and preserve both human and natural landscapes.

    Allison Johnson
    Group 2

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  29. Dr. Hammer,
    Ancient Mayan architecture and culture have long been an interest of mine and it was great to learn even more about this culture from you blog. There are a few details in your vivid descriptions that greatly surprised me, chief of which was your mention that the forked road south of Merida was the same road (or path of road) that was used by the Mayan. This implies that the trade and travel routes never felt to disuse through the Mayan cultural decline and subsequent European invasion. The idea that this route between ancient cities has stood so long is thrilling me. I was also impressed by the description of passing villages "teeming with ruined pyramids" on the way to Mayapan. I was not aware that there are so many sites within the Yucatan, and that villages have remained so near them. I often think of the history of the Mayan being so much more disconnected from the current society that inhabits that part of the world.

    Lastly, I am surprised that the Spanish found such a prevalent number of stone chips that they were able to regularly incorporate them into the architecture, creating a unique style to the area. Is this characteristic of only the Valladolid and Merida area or can these be found throughout the Yucatan and Guatemala? If they are primarily in that area, do we know why? Was it because they were newer and still being developed or because they had been inhabited and maintained for so many years, while many southern locations had been abandoned or neglected? The use by the Spanish makes sense though. Why not use scrap for construction when you want a cheap and quick way to rebuild a city in your image?
    You've pushed me to do more research. Thank you.

    Cat Kurzer

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  30. Dr. Hammer,
    I enjoyed reading your blog post. Your highly descriptive writing style makes it so easy for the reader to be on the trip with you. I enjoyed the fact that you attempted to replicate the stone pillars of Ake. While it may not have sung for you it gave enjoyment to me. What I found most interesting was that the Spanish used another society’s cast off stone chips to create their own new landscape. But why did they incorporate the old into the new landscape? These stones weren’t functional; only artistic. Was it out of respect for the ancient civilization or were they simply being resourceful? Your post really brought home the concept of palimpsests and how landscapes get erased (or buried) and built over. As I drove home from work on a jammed (in both directions) Los Angeles freeway, I was keenly aware of the concept “Landscape is Human.”
    Diane Parker IS380 Group 1

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  31. Dr. Hammer,
    What a great article! Thank you for sharing. I especially liked the way in which you have taken a scientific article and given it life through vivid imagery. I was most surprised to learn of the palimpsest layering of ruins in the city. The recycled use of stone shavings in the stucco is evidence of the historical landscape shaping the future. I'm sure it is most remarkable in person! Carolyn

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  32. Dr. Hammer,
    What a great article! Thank you for sharing. I especially liked the way in which you have taken a scientific article and given it life through vivid imagery. I was most surprised to learn of the palimpsest layering of ruins in the city. The recycled use of stone shavings in the stucco is evidence of the historical landscape shaping the future. I'm sure it is most remarkable in person! Carolyn

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  34. Dr. Hammer,

    The article was about a part of the world that I have yet to visit. I was pleasantly surprised by the fact the Mexicans built right on top of the Mayan cities. Cities are built on top of the old in Japan as well.

    The historical city of Nara dates back to over 1300 years. The current city was built on top of the old city. Construction of new buildings in the city of Nara is extremely difficult. The reason for the difficulty is that if any hint of history is found while digging the ground, the construction must be halted for a thorough investigation of the area. If any artifacts are found, the grounds may be determined to be historical, and the area becomes ineligible for construction. For that reason, in Nara, people renovate current buildings to avoid any digging. Any part of the history most likely has artifacts sleeping under the current city.

    Shuichi Hatakeyama

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  35. Surprise, Surprise: Beneath the Stones, the Epiphany of the Essay

    What surprises me is the artistic sophistication of the cut stones and their creative renditions, offering representations that invite us to dig more of their inner meanings. These representations of art do not shout or impose a political thought, a social movement, a graphic report from multiple wars, or a cultural advocacy, but all of these messages are embedded from beneath. Quite the same case as the way the essay was written, which I would delved into in a while.

    To relate these stones to the subtle, but compelling, epiphany of the visual essay, which is, “Landscape: a collective human endeavor,” these stones reveal the glorious past of the Mayans, the depraved consciousness of those in the present, and the precarious outlook of the future, using New York’s skyscrapers at Wall Street as both reality and metaphor.

    Let’s work out the visual worlds this visual essay has created for us: first, a proud and powerful civilization, the Mayans, existed centuries prior to western conquests; second, the Mayans were sophisticated so they built temples and pyramids; their conquerors, primary the Spanish and other indigenous tribes, engaged them in wars and exploited their societies; new generations came and undressed these temples and pyramids by chipping off stones from these structures, and building over them; in modern times, new foreigners arrived and pasted these stones on stucco walls. Dr. Hammer, Janet and their party arrived, they saw the landscapes, they noticed the stones, they wondered, they solved the puzzle…they were conquered. Their hearts and minds were conquered by the historic ascendancy of the peoples of the Yucatan and their “Architectural Mystery.”

    But his essay ends, rather surprisingly, with the landscape of Wall Street particularly its buildings. Our mind’s chronological understanding is now challenged to expand its horizon and overlay cultural, political, economic and social dimensions. We are made able to discern that these same stones in the Yucatan do carry the continuing reverberations of a civilization and people once so great but always subjected to extinction. We sense that perhaps the air Hammer breathed, the sights he witnessed, the good ghosts that escorted and embraced him during his visit must have carried, from their wailing and howling, the echoes of their sorrows. Perhaps, shaken, disturbed and fully immersed into the plight of the people of the Yucatan, their landscape, and their present state particularly in Villadolid, Hammer lands in New York and sees the Wall Street skyscrapers and points at them, with unequivocal accusing finger, as the new “monuments of greed.” Whoa! Suddenly, the friendly essay about an architectural and cultural tour of Yucatan turns heavy and loaded with seeming rage! He says, “these towers are our pyramids, this landscape of greed our bequest to the future.”

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  36. We are all moved by the tie that binds all the meanings in his essay; we now seek to find some consolation to understand what is (again) beneath both his statements and the stones, like the landscapes of Yucatan itself. We must always attempt to capture the lessons being offered.

    Samuel Johnson said, “Of the walls of China, it is easy to assign the motives. It secured a wealthy and timorous nation from the incursions of Barbarians….” Then he says, “But for the pyramids no reason has ever been given adequate to the cost and labor of the work.” It was the sheer sense of power that the leader of the tribes relishes as he sees thousands of people working to build those pyramids. He was referring to the Pharaohs of Egypt. I can only surmise that the new Pharaohs in Wall Street are no different. They over leveraged their financial institutions, cut and diced the debt notes that were over collateralized by bloated real estate values, causing the 2007 financial crisis, first to be rescued by the government with billions of federal money, came out richer, and all the rest of us poorer. There is indeed wisdom in Hammer’s final word in his essay.

    The Maya people, however, created works of arts to feed the cravings of their soul. For 2,000 years, the Maya peoples were in a series of city-states and empires that rise and fall; the first great Maya civilization achieves full flower from 250 to 900 B.C. Not until the nineteenth century were the ruins of the Yucatan fully appreciated. Their religion views the universe as cyclical and circular; they develop a sophisticated knowledge of astronomy and complex mathematical and calendrical systems; a system of writing on books and in stone inscriptions that only recently have begun to be deciphered. Their great stone monuments and pyramids are some of the most impressive archaeological remains in any ancient civilization.
    The Pharaohs of Egypt and the Wolves of Manhattan New York are represented by the western conquistadores that ruined the proud civilizations of the Yucatan people. Such misfortunes continue in recent years, wherein the present generations did not give much importance to the works of their ancestors. Relics and architectural wonders from their old civilizations gave way to unfettered gentrification and unhampered modernization — almost totally devoid of a cultural consciousness that values the greatness and glory of the past.

    No wonder Dr. Hammer sorrily sees the greatness that is lost at sight for it is kept beneath the grounds of Yucatan. He speaks his feelings for the Mayans with much high regards, which I quote as I end this comment:

    “The ancestors of today's Mayans built a landscape of glorious cities of worship and power. The by-product: unassuming chipped stones piled in the streets, created over ages by many hands. The collective goal of the Mayan civilization was the building and upkeep of those cities. Every hand in society supported the priests, sacrifices and physical presence of the cities of ritual that became Valladolid and Mérida. Temples and pyramids were built from stones trimmed and chipped near these sites for hundreds of years. Landscape: a collective human endeavor.”

    We bring home the lessons from this essay for us to begin to look around beneath the grounds upon which we stand.



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  37. Professor Hammer,

    Your blog post on your adventures in the Yucatan is quite vivid and I am amazed by the details you have presented. The one aspect of your post surprised me the most is your wife Janet's observation of the raised parking lot. Specifically, the details of the columns indicated the remains of the Spanish-era chapel were built upon Mayan ruins are quite shocking. "Blatant" would be the term that comes to mind.

    The principles of palimpset earlier remains of the past is not entirely erased. Therefore, we assume there will usually be some archeological or historical evidence of the past. However, in their unquenchable thirst for colonialism and domination, the Spanish did not appear to bother with integrating with the Mayans. Rather, they literally built over everything they have conquered. Every culture has their spirituality and their connection to something greater. It is amazing their Spanish conquerors did very little to respect the spiritual process of their subjects. Instead of dismantling the structures, building on top of existing ruins speaks volumes of the Mayan culture disregarded by the Spanish. It just goes to show history is written on the terms of the victor.

    Thank you for sharing this beautifully detailed blog.

    Regards,
    -Henry

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  38. Dr Hammer,
    Great post. I am hoping our society as a whole are capable of seeing the warning signs before it is too late. People have been exploring their artistic and creative side for thousands of years. What drives this creativity? The swirls were intriguing, but not surprising. There is something very unique about circular images, and what they seem to represent. From what I know, they have been used throughout history by many cultures. The universe, the solar system, the earth, and we as humans continually move in circles: cycling back around for another try, another pass, and another attempt at getting it right. We continue to move forward on a slightly less elliptical route, but eventually will come full circle – the end. Soon enough a new civilization will sprout, and like the Mayans, we too have built ourselves on the capacity of human endeavor.

    Imagine our current civilization coming to an end, and a new one sprouting 1000 of years later (hopefully later than sooner). Just like you describe, layers of earth cover ruins of what used to be our thriving civilization. What would Dr. Sam Hammer of the future say if he uncovered a ruin of a home that had swirl texture on drywall? Would it depend on what his civilization was built on? Would he be inspired to mimic and attempt at replicating or introducing the same technique in his own community. As appealing and as interesting as it may be, it may very well be something that will be used again in the future – thus coming full circle. If those swirls were made by a Mayan in an attempt to beautify the landscape, was their an ulterior motive? Money? Worship? Power?

    Creativity is inspired by many factors. Unfortunately, one of those factors can be for greed – the love of money and power. Ingenuity comes in many forms, and I am hoping that more of us realize the downside potential of creativity. We must tread carefully.

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  39. I want to comment on your statement regarding the “lunacy of foreigners who travel with cognitive maps so clearly clashing with the place they visit.” I think this applies to more than just tourists. In life, we all have our expectations and carry with us some version of a map to get from here to there. It never seems to work out that way, and the map we carry so dear to us never seems to be charted to fulfill our expectations. Your pictures and observations remind me that I should toss that map, and open my eyes to the possibilities of an uncharted life; with open arms and an open mind.

    Ashley

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  40. Dr. Hammer,
    Very interesting and intriguing article. You seem very well traveled. The landscapes you were able to bring into the mix was great. The past seems to represent the future quite well throughout the article dating back to the Mayans. The ancient geography was stunning in the sense that it still provided for modern ways of life. Mentioning how the buildings squat together in the hot light of noon to create vibrancy was nothing I’ve ever heard, but makes complete sense. Nice in a sense that you were actually able to see different elements of climate to create your piece. Seeing different aspects must have created for a full-spectrum of thoughts to react on.
    The pyramids were a piece that I found very enlightening. The remains of a Spanish-era chapel must have been quite the sacred ground to look at. There must have been a feeling of peace at that location? Sometimes the ruins of something can provide for the future and create magnitudes of perception. The stucco seems to be a modern staple that really took hold on the landscape, and due to the climate, is probably a material that supersedes anything else. The postlude had a familiarity that made a lot of sense to me. Although in two completely different climates and landscapes, the remains of something devastating have such an effect on people and how they cope with events. Communities seem to grow strong as a unit and provide solidarity to make it through tough circumstances, which has a lot to do with “The Genius of Landscape.” Thanks for sharing this great piece.
    All the best-
    Dennis Sullivan

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  41. Hello Prof. Hammer,

    I really enjoyed going on that journey with you. I love your style of writing and I enjoyed looking at the pictures. This post is a great example on how we all create and shape the landscapes around us throughout the years with the different activities that we do as humans. As you mentioned, it took hundreds of years for the pillars to form, and it will keep changing with time as the landscape changes with human intervention.

    Thank you so much for the great post.

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  42. First of all I have to say I love your dramatic prelude!!! Valladolid sounds like a sweet nice place. Following the “Route of the Seven Churches” sounds so strange with churches taking over those ancient pyramids.
    I have never looked at landscape that deeply in layers. Maybe being a tourist some where I have seen a place where someone conquered someone and then someone conquered them and left things and then oh wait a Starbucks!
    Now I am understanding the concept of palimpsest. These places are like layers on a cake of different cultures and how they used the land. If you peel back the layers you might never know what you will find.
    I am glad you and Janet got to experience Mayapan alone. Why do tourist find and ruin everything? But then I say to myself hey I am a tourist too! Maybe the German Yogis were trying to feel the power and energy of the place.
    Then when you get back the irony of finding that parking garage with the chapel columns. I envy your studying of the patterns and trying to recreate. Thank you for sharing your adventure!

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  43. increhible is how much we have in mexico historical life and not try to nurse him.
    Too bad when we realize that are almost lost it when we try to rescue them, still better from the outset to be kept intact and original.

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  44. Woow, very good article, does not matter the intentions for those who were constructed these buildings, the remains of the buildings that continue of foot are wonderful, and the landscape is beautiful. I likes the end, It is sad to see that the people do not value the environment in which we live and tries to improve it, but It ends destroying it, thank you for the article.

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  45. Woow, very good article, does not matter the intentions for those who were constructed these buildings, the remains of the buildings that continue of foot are wonderful, and the landscape is beautiful. I likes the end, It is sad to see that the people do not value the environment in which we live and tries to improve it, but It ends destroying it, thank you for the article.

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  46. I love your article because it brings back memories of my trips to the Yucatan. I visited the ruins in Chichen Itza and Tulum 20+ years ago, and again two years ago with my daughters. I was amazed at the growth of tourism and the devastating affect it has had on the natural landscape. In order to visit Tulum in the 80's, I needed to drive down miles of white sand/gravel roads to visit the historic site of Tulum. I was so excited to show my daughters; I was naive. Today, they have a four lane highway direct to the park like entrance. Regardless, the history of the Mayan people is fascinating. I especially like how the design of Temples line up with the stars and sun. In your article, I like how you to noticed the small details that provided a less obvious story about the Mayan history of Valladoid, and the richness of their culture and people. On a side note, I am incredibly grateful the Mayan culture for their contribution of chocolate!

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  47. Dr. Hammer,

    What struck me as most surprising is the Yucatan cities remind me of the present day city of Rome. Both Rome and Mérida rise above ancient ruins as modern cities bustling with vibrant energy incorporating into their very structures artifacts from past societies, incarnations as you mentioned.

    In this modern time it isn’t difficult to imagine a yoga class being offered at the Roman Coliseum not unlike what you saw in your travels. I wonder if this demonstrates a lack of reverence, particularly at the Mayan ruins/Coliseum (and the loss of life whether ceremonial or persecution) and whether or not these ruins should be revered and protected for their historical value.

    Another interesting find from your writings concerns that which is generally overlooked, soot, emissions and the coloring of cities from, “… the dust of exhaust and baked…” I hadn’t ever considered our “pollution” becoming part of an archeological record; of course, I don’t mean evidence of pre-historic controlled fires but actual soot and grime.

    And finally, the stone cuttings, so fascinating in pictures, that are the remnants of workers who built the temples. Was the use of stone chips amid the city an outlet of their creative expression?

    We shape, create and incorporate the landscape around us.

    Thank you for bringing alive the lesson Landscape is Human.

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  49. One of the first things your article made me think about is how I feel when I am walking down some of the streets in Boston. When you wrote about the landscape and about how it might have looked in ancient times it reminded me of how I think about how the areas that I am walking in might have looked like years ago. For example, walking near the Boston Harbor I always wonder if people think about how they were walking along the same path as John Smith when he first discovered it, or the Sons Of Liberty when they were coming to dump the tea. It's amazing to think that you are walking in the same street that Samuel Adams, John Hancock, Paul Revere, and many more great people walked along.
    The landscape around us provides us with a story of how things were before we became a modern city. Walking around the city and looking at the newer buildings I sometimes wonder if people years from now will do the same thing that I do and look at these buildings in awe and try to imagine how we lived and how they walk along the same streets used by important people in history.
    This is what I felt when you took us on your journey through Yucatan. I wonder if you felt the same feeling of awe when thinking about all of the people who came before you who created this city.

    When reading this one thing that surprised me was the parking lot over the ruins. I wonder what the people who made that temple would think if they were able to see what has happened to it now. I also wonder if people ever stopped to think about what they were parking on. By reading this article I feel like more people will take time out to really study their surroundings and think about what it might have looked like before it was modernized.

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  50. Professor Hammer, This a great article really inspired me. The pictures made you think that you were actually there is both past and present. Some of the Mayan ruins really gives you a sense of how intelligent these people were and the tourists that go to these sights and want to learn about these great people.

    The thing that surprised me about this post is the attention to detail about each moment that you were able to admire while you were visiting this great part of the world.

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  51. Professor Hammer,

    Thanks for sharing your experience as others have mentioned your writing is truly amazing. Your style of writing immediately invites any reader to look beyond their given reality. I am surprised at just how carefully you consider details that others usually don’t. I quickly reminisced my past trips to cities full of history such as Athens and Rome. After reading your piece, I now realized at just how much time I wasted considering pointless factors. I should had done what you did and carefully considered the hidden treasures that were possibly right in front of my eyes. If I had paid more attention to what was underground and not just what was visible on the surface; I would have gotten way more out of my experience. I am not hinting that I would have found any answers. I am simply saying that it would have made my experience way more exiting as yours appeared to be.

    Best,

    Hingryd

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  52. Greetings Prof. Hammer,
    I enjoyed your reading about your travel experience. The questions you asked is something I also experience when I travel. The landscape and atmosphere are very overwhelming sometimes. Observing takes more priority. I don’t have time to slow down and ask important questions. The Mayans are still a mysterious people that have appeared to have vanished. Historical records are usually written by the victors of wars. In the case of the invading Spanish. They didn’t appear to record much of the Mayan culture and technology they destroyed. But as your experiment showed, the settlers did learn building techniques were not originally theirs. I believe that new civilizations are built on the history of the past. I mean that metaphorically and physically.

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  53. Hello Professor Sam,
    I enjoyed your writing style in this piece... It is reminiscent of the way the people of the towns you visited built upon their previous landscapes. Your paragraphs build upon each other in the same way.
    The piece that stuck in my mind though is how the people built an elevated parking lot on the ruins of a temple or pyramid. How much of this rich history was preserved for future generations? Was most of it covered and covered again with new landscapes? Were these ruins all re-purposed?
    Thank you.
    Zanelle

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  54. Hi professor... great blog! Haha I found it so funny when you mentioned the tourist doing yoga on a burial site.. Kind of ironic lol! I also loved the pictures.
    I know you tried to recreate the pillars and stone chips but nothing is as ever good as the original!!

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  55. Hi Professor Hammer,

    “All societies construct landscape communally.” In my mind, when I first read though your post, my tunnel vision went straight to purposeful communal building. I thought about how we communally plan gardens, build roads, and how we make decisions together as a city of where to put the next skyscraper and what it should look like and how it should compliment the skyline. Yet, as I continued to read, I realized that of course we “create” landscape by simply living in it. Like a river cutting its way through a valley, we, as humans, cut away at our landscape and create something new. I found the “random stone puzzle” an interesting one as well. It made me think about how landscape and humans almost have some type of symbiotic relationship. We feed off of each other and shape and create a place to live - which is something that I admittedly never thought deeply about.

    I enjoyed reading your post!

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  56. Prof. Hammer,

    As many of your followers have stated before, what a journey! I felt part of your experience in the Yucatan. I am not surprised to find that the European settlers and future residents of Valladolid built on top of ancient ruins. Additionally, I am not shocked to see those ancient aspects influence the surrounding landscape. However, it is surprising that there is very little mention of historical protection and awareness. The example I would use: the two baroque columns found by Janet in the parking lot. In America, generally, there would be a plaque, an acknowledgement or both. Why nothing here? Is it due to the “recycled” process used by the local denizens? What church or holy site was there? Did it hold any significance? What happened to it? It is surprising that the locals do not want to (or possibly cannot?) hold onto the story of their landscape’s past. To build upon the notion of understanding the history of the surrounding landscape, after reading this blog I was left with more questions than answers. I thought this would be a cut and dry blog with objective facts and pictures to sift through. Instead, the blogger himself asked more questions that I desperately want answers to! This blog triggered two difficult questions: what other mysteries lie beneath the modern city of Valladolid and will we ever find ourselves relics of the past? Will our society be the random stone chips in the stucco walls of future generations?

    Thank you for the amazing post!

    Sean Westaway

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  57. This read as though it were a book, setting up a scene for the story. It was hard to keep reminding myself that this is real.
    Something I found incredibly fascinating was when you acknowledge that while the whole area may be built atop ruins of previous civilization, there are ruins visible to us already from a society not too long before ours. For me it sparks consideration for the future. In 200, 500, 1000 years, will Mayapan be a high functioning city with technology and industry overwhelming it and all signs of ruins gone? Or, will that occur for a small amount of time, only for it to become ruins on top of ruins on top of ruins of other ancient civilization.
    I've never been anywhere with so much ancient history. A trip to London this fall amazed me because getting off the tube and immediately seeing what can only be described as majestic and fantasy-like castles with a modern day city built around them was mind boggling. How could a modern city function around something that seems so mythical and grand? I had the same sensation looking at your photos in this post. Though the cities here are mostly run down and very third world, the juxtaposition of life in the 21st century against ancient history we can only read and dream about is fascinating and incredible.
    Thank you for sharing! I hope one day to experience somewhere like this myself.

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  58. Dr. Hammer,
    While going through this post I was surprised at many of the things you described on your trip. From the German tourists doing yoga on the structures and how they forgot one of their oldest members of their group, to just the plain fact that the whole city is just sitting right on top of ruins.

    I was also surprised at the stone chips left behind from hundreds of years of stone cutters, and how these chips are now an integral part to the stucco that can be seen through the city. Something so unnatural that has been formed once into chips and now into a piece of work that does look natural like it belongs.

    The most surprising thing though was what you realized upon your journey back to the United States. Having this experience in a city of ruins gave you the perspective that someday what we consider a part of everyday life will eventually be ruins. Maybe not to the same extent, but everything can’t last forever and will someday see a decay.

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  59. Dr. Hammer, thank you for this enlightening post! It is mind-boggling how our surroundings contribute to our sense of time. As you had mentioned, visiting New York City and looking at what are considered our "older" structures and buildings is almost baffling compared to the cultures and places built over a millennia ago in other countries. A persons' sense of time is so ingrained by where we grew up. I think the common denominator with almost every civilization though is the idea of "Build, rebuild and rebuild again"- you describe seeing the efforts at Ground Zero and when we look back through history, we see that civilizations have toppled, whether through warfare or nature. And, as I was reading your post, I realized that for some, the rebuilding process took centuries, while the rebuilding of the World Trade Center sticks out to us due to it's extremely recent collapse (16 years ago is extremely recent within the grand scale of history)and also because the process is so visible to everyone around the world due to the far-reach of the media. I think, as Americans, our sense of history is skewed, in a way, or at the very least, our sense of the breadth of history. I'm reminded of a documentary that followed famous cellist, Yo-Yo Ma to the African bush, where he brought his instrument to play for the people of the Xhosa tribe. As a classical musician myself, and one who has been trained in the style of western music, musicians such as Bach and Beethoven are seen as early composers, and much of the music composed before 1600 is considered "early music." So, there's Yo-Yo-Ma, playing his cello surrounded by the Xhosa people and their instruments that have been around for millenniums, and he states "Bach never seemed so young." It resonated with me, and I think your blog also touches upon that sentiment- our understanding of time and history is relatively narrow.

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