Wednesday, July 30, 2008

Rolling with the flow

I fly back to Austin tomorrow, but I will continue to post my work about Palenque to this blog. The research that Anabella and I are doing this summer is not just about tourism, but about the general long term sustainability of the site. Quite a broad subject, you’re thinking? Yes, but we are hoping to at least present some useful suggestions and conclusions that will include other things beside tourism -- for instance, the problem of the destruction of ancient buildings by rain water (to be addressed in the next blog). According to Rudy Larios (2005) water is a “number one enemy” of these ancient limestone structures (see for his report called “Architectural Restoration Criteria in the Maya Area”). But now, lets talk about water drainage across the landscape. Ed Barnhart and his survey crew were able to map creeks and streams of the site and you can see them on this map. In addition, they also mapped the springs. Rest assured that a location with over 50 natural springs and sitting in the path of the warm trade winds, has serious water management issues. For the time being, I am classifying the drainage facilities into four categories with two sub classes each, but there is only room here to show you a few examples.
One type is that of the closed drain, both ancient and modern. Here is a picture of a closed modern drain that was created in conjunction with the walkway. I don’t know how they are able to clean it out, since it is L-shaped.
Here is a map of an ancient aqueduct. As you can see from the blue color of the water, it is both open and closed.
Another type drain is the modern open drain. The red displays the path of this modern structure.
When the drains don't work properly, they deteriorate the walkways and can even wash away concrete if the velocity down this hill is strong enough. In the next time I want to show you some pictures of what is happening to the ancient structures when it rains and what a difficult job it is to prevent the limestone building material from melting away. Thus they will become- one day in the future - only memories of what once was fabulous architecture.

Tuesday, July 29, 2008

Let's Go to the Palace!

I just realized that I haven't posted a shot of the Palace building - the place where the Tower Court and House E are located - the subject of my last posting. These two young ladies certainly look all spruced up and ready for a royal visit. It may look like I set up this shot, but I swear that I do not know these women.

Here is a top view of the Tower Court and House E. You can see where the tourists have created a path.

There are times when the court is packed with people (yes, looking at the toilets again).

Monday, July 28, 2008

Modern palace rituals – La posición para los sanitarios

If you visit the Palenque Palace, chances are good that you will pass through the Tower Court. House E, the building to the east of the court is believed to have been the royal quarters of Pakal the Great. Here is Linda Schele's drawing of the Oval Tablet inside House E.
Since one of my goals is to assess the impact of the tourist traffic on the palace building, the first thing I have do is to figure out a way to estimate how many tourists actually climb up to visit it. There are several access stairs that lead to it, so if I were to count everyone that uses the stairs, I would have to be in 3 places at once. Instead, I am using House E visitation as “proxy” count. This means that I will use these numbers to extrapolate how many are climbing the Palace structure.

Did you know that the Palace may have had toilets? From my vantage point on the stairs, I have noticed that most of the people who visit the court have a guide with them and the guide always, without fail, brings them over to the two holes in the floor on either side of the west stairs. What are these holes? There is archaeological evidence that they might have been toilets. The guides love to give their demonstrations to show how these devices might work and then they squat into “la posición”, encouraging the visitors to do the same. Above you see a series of “las posiciónes” over the men's "toilet".
La mujeres posición para el sanitarios

And others just gaze down into the hole, expecting to see -- I don't know what.

No Bañarse

Over the last few days, I have noticed that at least 6 old signs along the Otolum have been replaced with new ones. The old ones were usually faded, had metal screws on their faces or the lettering was faded. Metal rusts easily in this humid environment, but the new ones have plastic faces framed and supported by wood that seem to be coated with waterproof material. Here are pictures of the old and then the new. Looks pretty good, but it means that my sign inventory is already out of date!

Sunday, July 27, 2008

I have a confession to make.

In a past blog, I lead you to believe that Lakamha belonged to the people Mexico as well as to the people of the world, but I neglected to tell you about Palenque's biggest landlord/lady of them all -- that of the jungle. She thinks that the site should be hers and that it should be turned back into the organic matter from which it came. Witness this amazing algae growth behind me in one of the "houses" of the Palace.
And see these awesome tree roots that break buildings apart as if to step on them with their giant feet.

And its not just the ancient stuff that she wants to break down -- the new concrete infrastructure also takes a beating.

Here workmen are water blasting the Temple of the Inscriptions to clean off the algae that has grown on its consolidated limestone walls. Its a problem that ancient Maya royalty must have also struggled over - how to keep the forest habitat from eroding their grand buildings.

This is a photo that Alfred Maudslay took in the late 1800's of the palace tower. After Palenque's decline which seems to have begun around AD 800, the forest took it back again. Maudslay and his crew had to try to figure out what part of the structure was stone and what part was forest.

Saturday, July 26, 2008

Trippin' up the hill to Lakamha

There are several alternative travel modes available to get to the Palenque site. My preferred way is the "combi" which costs only 10 pesos. But how are other people finding their way there? It is less than 10 miles from the modern city also named Palenque. When one begins the trip up into the site, its an uphill struggle by foot, so many people want motorized transportation to there. Lots of Mexican families are on vacation now and they tend to bring their cars, although many are arriving in tour package buses.
To determine the modes that people are using to get Lakamha, I have begun an effort to sample trip modes (what kind of vehicle are people using). It will come as no surprise to know that so far (and my sampling is not yet complete) I have found that 58 percent of all the vehicles that enter the site parking lot are private vehicles. But this is a third world country, right (is this still true of Mexico?) I don't know much about Mexico's economy, but I do know that they love their cars! This does not mean that more PEOPLE come into the site by private car, on the contrary, most people are coming in on the large luxury buses like this one.
What this large percent of private vehicles means is there are not enough parking spaces in the small lot up the hill next to the site, so people are parking on the road "shoulders". This road is the only one into the site.
In reality, the road has no shoulders. When it was built several years ago, at least one ancient grave was disturbed and the new road was carved into several of the ancient buildings. Widening it now is unthinkable, so other traffic management tools must be found -- it is an obvious safety issue.
It would help if parking were restricted to one side of the street, but this is not the case. In addition, people who have parked their cars are getting out and walking up in the street to get to the park entrance because there is no other place to walk, thus creating conflicts between the pedestrian, the car and the bus. I am told that there are plans to create a park and ride lot near the Panchan entrance, but the funds may not be available for a while and building a parking lot takes time. No need to worry, I am told, after all the problems are only due to vacation season, right? In a couple of months, all will be back to normal and the traffic problems will go away. OK, maybe so, but we should pray that no one looses their lives in the meantime.
I suggest that this is a wake-up call for what the future might look like within the next 20 years. Too many cars and people on a road too narrow and curvy.

Friday, July 25, 2008

Whose Palenque is this?

Around mid-day I saw a group of people dressed in purple, solemnly and quietly walk into the park in a single file. Since I am a student of the ancient Maya, my first reaction was to think that this ceremony had no place here. The participants were carrying two banners, one the image of Christ and the other I could not see. The presence of this group, with their chanting and singing, caused me to examine my feelings about who "owns" Palenque.

Here are just a few of the Owners of Palenque
Mexican School Children

Families on Vacation

Indigenous Maya in Traditional Dress

Young Indigenous Vendors

People from all over the world

La Piedra Serpiente

Today I went to the site looking for a guide named Nicolas Lopez, a local Chol Maya. He had ben my guide last year into Palenque's jungle on the western side of the site and I wanted to go there again. Tourists can only visit this area if they are accompanied by a licensed guide. Guides must have 530 hours of training. Few touristas want to go there because the paths are muddy and hard to follow. Nicolas loves to tramp through the woods, finding things that he thinks are of interest to me. When we were done, after paying him, I also gave him a reproducible map of the site that he can give out to his future clients.

During our very watery tour, we carefully made our way through all the travertine terraces that have formed in and around the cascades. Water ladened with calcite from the underground springs coats everything over time, including these snail shells that we picked up out of the stream.

At one point, Nicolas exclaimed "La Serpiente!" and pointed down to one of the formations and sure enough, there it was, a stone snake. Si, es verdad!

Wednesday, July 23, 2008

Give me a sign that...

tells me where I am - or that tells me what I shouldn't be doing, especially in an archaeological park. I have photographed, inventoried and geocoded over 100 signs at the park. Some are in really good shape and then there are others that have seem some weathering.

Here is a large stand up sign that the tourists and the guides just love. Its a map of the site that has the building names.

I made this map to help you see how I have geo-coded the signs. They are the purple dots and usually the are found along the tourist circuit path. As you can see, I still need to add the suspension bridge that crosses the Otolum (the signs incorrectly designate this crossing as the Murcielogos).

Monday, July 21, 2008

The Murcielagos Arroyo

Until I made this map (in ArcScene) and then turned the site toward me, I hadn't realized how high up into the mountain the Murcielagos stream originates. The streams that cross Palenque come from perched table water springs that become full to overflowing due to added runoff when a big storm comes through. There are at least 51 of these type springs that flow out of the Palenque site.

Sunday, July 20, 2008

Big Water, Little Crab

It has rained every day for the last 2 months at the park site -- I'm sure that this comes as no surprise, since it's in a mountain jungle that is cooled by the Trade Winds of the Gulf of Mexico. I created this map that dispays Palenque's geographic position in relation to the Gulf and the large limestone escarpment that sits directly behind it.

The site experiences tremendous erosional processes during the events. This is a picture that I snapped of Group C today. Water pours across and over everything, even though many modern efforts has been used to try to channelize it.
Tthe Murcielagos (meaning bats) Group is also heavy soaked.

To my surprise and delight, I came across this little guy trying to cross the walkway and make his way down to one of the cascades. Obviously in a defensive posture...