Archeologists Wield Very Big Stick in Yucatan Exploration
But first, let me a take a selfie

Davidson archeologists used what may be the world’s longest selfie stick to extend the capability of their science into the third dimension last summer.

Professor of Anthropology Bill Ringle, a veteran of 35 years of exploring Mayan ruins in Mexico’s Yucatan Peninsula, obtained a 22-foot-long selfie stick to help create extremely detailed screen images of 1,500-year-old civilization’s material culture. Specialized software allowed him to create images of the objects and structures that can be rotated on any axis and viewed from various angles.

Ringle’s team spent five weeks beginning making images at seven or eight sites in the Puuc Hills of Yucatan. The region was populated from 600 AD to 950 AD, and the large number of stone houses indicate that it was relatively prosperous. Ringle has been working in this area since 2000.

Before selfie sticks, Ringle said archeologists tried to get overhead views of structures by mounting a camera on a drone or balloon. But the hand-held selfie stick is more mobile and precisely controlled for making images showing structures from above, especially given the tree canopy covering most buildings.


The selfie stick and ground level images captured by the team’s off-the-shelf Canon Rebel digital camera were then manipulated with PhotoScan Pro to create three-dimensional views of objects and structures. The software identifies common, overlapping points between frames of the picture and “stitches” together a final image that appears to be three-dimensional.

Ringle said the new technique, called “photogrammetry,” yields a screen image that can be turned and twisted to show objects from various angles in extreme detail. But outputting a high quality image requires inputting a huge number of images.

“We would often take many hundreds of images of a structure,” explained Charles Rappe ‘16, an anthropology major who worked on site with Ringle. “You take a picture, then move one step to the side so the next view overlaps slightly with the first. You take a picture there and move another step until you have images of the entire structure. It can be pretty tedious,” Rappe confessed.

“Our computer files were enormous,” Ringle added. “It took all night for the computer to process the images of a small palace 40 feet long or so.”

There were other challenges as well. If image points were misaligned, the program registered blank spots in that area, and the image had to be re-photographed. Additionally, the weather determined the work schedule. Sunny days were bad for photography because of strong shadows. Overcast days with even light worked much better.

Rappe and team members faced hard work, clearing sites of brush so that they could be photographed.

And sites often had to be cleared of brush before they were ready to photograph. Rappe said it was often hard work. The typical day began before 6 a.m. with a little breakfast, then a ride to the various sites, some of which were 90 minutes away.

“We were in the back woods a lot, and it seemed like every plant you touched had thorns,” said Rappe. “There was also a lot of insect biodiversity-but all of them seemed large! We got scratched, bitten and dirty.”

Ringle estimates they made 50,000 exposures in creating images of 60 to 70 buildings and objects this summer. Several examples of the images they created are online.

The selfie stick was also valuable in examining cisterns that the Maya dug to obtain water. Lowering the camera and a light into the cistern, they could take photos of the inside, process the images to produce an image of it, and accurately measure its volume. That was valuable information in estimating the number of people who may have lived nearby and used the cistern.

Just as their work documented the inside of cisterns, they also photographed the inside of structures. In looking at many images, the viewer can pass through doorways from an outside view to a view of the inside.


The work was part of a long-term project in the area directed by Ringle and co-directors Professor Tomas Gallareta Negron, a native Yucatecan who works for the Mexican National Institute of Anthropology and History, and Professor George Bey from Millsaps College.

Ringle has taken students on his summer explorations of Yucatan for 28 years. Rappe, a native of Fort Collins, Colo., who runs hurdles for the Wildcat track team, was thrilled to have been selected for the project this summer.

Rappe said he has become more and more interested in anthropology with each passing semester at Davidson. During the late fall of his junior year he told Ringle, his adviser, that he would like to pursue a doctorate in the field. With that in mind, he asked Ringle to recommend a fieldwork project he could pursue.

Rappe was pleasantly surprised with Ringle’s response.

“He said he’d love for me to come to Yucatan with him,” Rappe recalled. “I didn’t know that he went there every year. Having him offer me the opportunity was great. It showed me he not only appreciated what I put into his courses, but that he wanted to share his interest and his research with me.”

Pleased with his first experience in photogrammetry, Ringle expects it will become a standard part of his basic exploration “tool kit.” He will also teach students the technique in his classes in Mesoamerican archeology, and present a paper about his recent work at a national meeting along with Rappe as coauthor.

Skull from Ciapas, Mexico, bearing teeth adorned with gems.

Ancient peoples of southern North America went to “dentists"—among the earliest known—to beautify their chompers with notches, grooves, and semiprecious gems, according to a recent analysis of thousands of teeth examined from collections in Mexico’s National Institute of Anthropology and History.

Most of the gem-encrusted teeth were from individuals who lived before the year 1500 and who came from all walks of life–this was not a trend for the elite alone.

Source: National Geographic


The archaeological site of Cantona, Puebla, Mexico. This site was occupied during the Classic period: AD 100-900, and peaked about 600-900.

Cantona was a huge, fortified city, about 15.5 square kilometres in size -making it 2nd in size to Teotihuacan. Cantona includes 24 ball courts, and at its peak, had a population of 80,000-90,000 inhabitants.

There appears to have been strong ceremonialism. This is suggested by the human remains exhibiting decapitation: burned, carved, and boiled bones, with artefacts on top of them. It seem as though human remains were used as offerings in the construction of pyramids and altars.

Photos courtesy of & taken by Russ Bowling.


Jade use in the Americas: Maya

Areas: México, Guatemala, Honduras, Belize

  1. Nebaj, El Quiché, Guatemala
  2. Kinich Ahau Head: Belize
  3. Figure: Honduras
  4. Head Pendant: México/Guatemala
  5. Plaque: México
  6. Pectoral
  7. Earflare Frontals: Guatemala
  8. Mask of Pakal: México


Dear internet folk who think that the “Charlie Challenge” is real

First of all, I am very disappointed in the lack of logic that I have been seeing across social media websites. The fact that people are so quick to jump to the conclusion of “demon!!” and “dangerous!” greatly disappoints me, especially considering that I have seen people in my own community, across ages, behave the same way. 

Allow me to get to the facts, for everyone who is wondering or illogically paranoid. 

So how does the Charlie challenge work? Big surprise, guys and gals and all you other people, but it’s a little thing called gravity. When you are attempting to balance the pencils at an equilibrium as they are, there will be natural gravitational pulls on each end…just as, you know, there’s gravitational pulls on everything in the real world 24/7. The slightest disturbance in equilibrium is going to cause GRAVITY to shift the pencil one way or another. There is no demon, there is no ghost of a suicide child. It’s gravity. In a situation where you are trying to balance two pencils like that, it would be almost impossible for gravity to NOT shift them in one direction or another. (Source here: )

Another thing. If we are talking about ANCIENT Mexico, regardless of whether you believe “Charlie” to be a demon or a good spirit, consider this: ancient Mexico consisted of Native American tribes and civilizations. This included (but is not limited to) the Olmec civilization, the Toltec Civilization, the Maya civilization and the Aztec civilization. Within these civilizations, would it be very probable to find a person let alone a fabled demon named “Charlie”? The name Charlie is of ENGLISH and GERMANIC origins, stemming from Charles. The so-called demon would make much more sense if he was named, say, Cualli or Itotia.(Sources: )

Furthermore, it is ridiculous to believe that a demon of ANY culture would have a name as simple as “Charlie”. Demons are meant to be summoned only if one has knowledge of their true names. The names of mesoamerican demons vary from  Dagwanoenyent to Yenaldlooshi . No names are even close to Charlie. It is also relevant to say that most cultures where summoning spirits of malign are openly practiced, PROTECTING oneself is involved in the summoning (see things such as the Crown of Protection ). The fact that the Charlie Challenge utilizes none is too far-fetched for one to conclude that it came from a malign spirit fearing culture such as that found in ancient mesoamerica. 

In conclusion, the Charlie Challenge is bullshit, and the only reason that “paranormal” things are happening to people is because a) they already had something “paranormal” going on or, and more likely, b) due to suggestibility and the priming surrounding the situation. Since there is so much hype and fear surrounding the Charlie Challenge, your brain is more likely to wire in with said fear, thus making normally non-disturbing happenings a huge deal, and inviting in the negativity of paranoia and the paranormal. (Source: )


Aztec masks.

The Walters provides an excellent overview of the significance of skeletal masks to the Mexica, which I have included below.

Throughout Mesoamerica, the wearing of masks was central to the performance of religious rituals and reenactments of myths and history. The face is the center of identity, and by changing one’s face, a person can transcend the bounds of self, social expectations, and even earthly limitations. In this transformed state, the human becomes the god, supernatural being or mythic hero portrayed.

Masks of skeletal heads, whether human or animal, are relatively common, for death played a central role in Mexica religion. Death was one of the twenty daysigns of the Mexican calendar, indicating its essential place in the natural cycle of the cosmos. Death also was directly connected to the concept of regeneration and resurrection, which was a basic principle in Aztec religious philosophy.

A key Mexica myth recounts the journey of Ehecatl, a wind god who was an aspect of Quetzalcóatl (“Feathered Serpent”), a powerful Mesoamerican deity. Ehecatl travels to Mictlán, the land of the dead, where he retrieves the bones of long-dead ancestors. He grinds their bones and mixes the powder with his blood, offered in sacrifice. With this potent mixture, the god formed the new race of humans who, according to Mexica cosmology, inhabit the present fifth age of Creation. Thus, death and rebirth are intimately connected in Aztec thought and religious practice.

The mask represents the concept of life generated from death with visages animated by lively eyes and painted skin. The mask was probably worn during rituals, covering the performer’s face or attached to an elaborate, full-head mask, and transforms the person into a new being that symbolizes the pan-Mesoamerican belief in life springing from death as a natural, and inevitable, process of the mystical universe. (Walters)

Courtesy of & currently located at the Walters Art Museum, Baltimore, USA, 2009.20.1212009.20.1.