Unlike other great civilizations such as the Romans and the Ancient Egyptians, the Mayan empire did not arise from the banks of a mighty river. Much of the Mayan world is in fact devoid of even the smallest river or lake. Then why did they populate Yucatan? The Maya believed that the freshwater pools, ‘cenotes’, dotted across the area were sacred portals to the underworld.
Over three thousand years ago, in the fertile jungles of lowland Mexico, the first civilization in the Americas was born. Five hundred years before Rome was founded, the Olmec were building great cities with pyramids and ball courts. Considered by most archaeologists to be the mother culture of Mexico, the roots of the later Maya and Aztec cultures lie with the Olmec.
10,000 B.C. was a time of cataclysmic change on Earth. Extreme climactic fluctuations hurled the planet into a minor ice age; mega-fauna like the saber-toothed tiger and woolly mammoth were suddenly becoming extinct; and early humans began to inhabit North America. Cold and hungry, their fragile communities undertook perilous hunting expeditions. The slaughter of a single mammoth, weighing nearly ten tons, could be the difference between survival and death.
Around 8,000 years ago, the little known fishing communities of the Chinchorro began mummifying their dead in a sophisticated process that belies their otherwise primitive ways. Without the signature elaborate pottery, jewelery or textiles so common in the grander Inca, Mayan and Toltec civilizations, these humble folk desiccated their deceased relatives in an elaborate process before burial in family “plots”.
The structures have survived all these years of natural weathering and damage inflicted by modern mankind. Through the magic of computer simulation, the viewer can experience the pyramids as they must have appeared to the ancients who built them.
These haunting human "time capsules" have been uncovered all over the world. Some even reach a certain level of fame: The Ampato maiden sacrificed on an Andes peak. The Alpine Ice Man, the oldest frozen mummy ever found. England's 9,000-year-old Cheddar Man. Others' stories are known only to the ages, like a cache of elaborately adorned 7,000-year-old mummies unearthed in Chile, and the thousands of Egyptian mummies actually burned as train fuel in the 19th century. Modern science now allows us to explore these human treasures without destroying them, and connects us all to the secrets of the ancient dead.