Archaeological pioneer discusses Mayan history
By Marty Russell
BOONEVILLE – Dr. Tom Sever, a pioneer in the use of satellite imagery to locate archaeological sites “around the world,” presented a lecture on Mayan history Thursday night that offered some insights into the origins and disappearance of the once flourishing culture.
The only archaeologist on the staff of the National Aeronautics and Space Administration, Sever has done extensive research on Mayan ruins his techniques have helped to unearth in Guatemala and Mexico. Sever uses satellite radar imaging to penetrate jungle growth, centuries of soil deposits and other obstructions to locate buried or hidden archaeological sites.
“Two weeks ago we found a (Mayan) pyramid that we’ll be going back down in July to document and film,” he said Thursday night at the annual meeting of the Prentiss County Development Association.
The pyramid was located in jungle growth so thick that a landowner who lived just two miles away didn’t know it existed, Sever told the crowd as they watched a slide show about the history of the Mayan culture, which flourished from the time of Christ until its sudden disappearance.
“It’s one of the truly mysterious cultures,” he said.
The Mayans once lived in cities of 60,000 or more and had a population that rivaled that of modern-day Europe, Sever said.
The strongest argument for the origin of the Mayans is that they came from the Pacific Ocean regions, possibly even from Asia. The culture developed an extensive knowledge of astronomy and its own calendar that had a peculiar starting date and a definite end.
The calendar starts on Aug. 11, 3411 B.C., more than 3,000 years prior to when the culture was thought to have arisen. It ends on Dec. 23, 2012.
“Those who still practice the ceremonies are awaiting the end of the world then,” Sever said.
Sever and the techniques he developed for remote sensing have been credited with the discovery of ancient Anasazi roadways in the Southwest, the oldest know footprints in the world in Costa Rico, an Iron Age tower communications system in Israel and the Mayan and Peruvian sites in Central and South America. His research hopes to document the effects of global environmental change on human cultures.