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Batman Existed In Mesoamerican Mythology And His Name Was Camazotz

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Batman Existed in Mesoamerican Mythology and His Name Was Camazotz
Photo Credit: Camazotz Maya style Batman suit created by Mexican designer Kimbal, Batman Exhabition, 2015.

As social media is abuzz with who might be cast in the next Batman movie, with concerns that some of the candidates might not be menacing enough to fill those big black boots, it might be time to look again at one of the bat figures that featured as an imposing power in Mesoamerican mythology – Camazotz.

Camazotz, (meaning ‘death bat’ in the Kʼiche’ Mayan language of Guatemala) originated deep in Mesoamerican mythology as a dangerous cave-dwelling bat creature. A cult following for the creature began amongst the Zapotec Indians of Oaxaca, Mexico and the figure was later adopted into the pantheon of the Maya Quiche tribe and the legends of the bat god were later recorded in Maya literature.

Bats are considered to be menacing creatures in many cultures. They are nocturnal and thus associated with the night, which is also often associated with death. Many common species also have a relatively bizarre appearance, which makes them all the more off-putting for humans. It doesn’t help that there is a species that actually sucks blood (the vampire bat, Desmodus Rotundus ).

In the Maya culture, the bat god Camazotz is linked to death. Camazotz is also the name of a monstrous creature which inhabited a cave called “the house of bats” in the Popol Vuh. Most scholars believe that Camazotz was inspired by the common vampire bat, but others have suggested that it was based on a giant vampire bat that (probably) went extinct sometime during the Pleistocene or Holocene periods.

Camazotz, bat God. ( CC BY-NC-SA 2.0 )
Camazotz, bat God. ( CC BY-NC-SA 2.0 )
A Monster Bat

In the Popol Vuh, an ancient Mayan mythological text, Zotzilaha was the name of a cave inhabited by the Camazotz, a monster with a roughly humanoid body, the head of a bat, and a nose that resembled a flint knife. The monster was said to attack victims by the neck and decapitate them. In the Popol Vuh, it is recorded that this creature decapitated the Maya hero Hunahpu. Camazotz is also one of the four animal demons responsible for wiping out mankind during the age of the first sun.

Maya hero Hunahpu about to be attacked by Camazotz. ( The Commons )
Maya hero Hunahpu about to be attacked by Camazotz. ( The Commons )

Bat-like demons and monsters are common in South America and Central America. Another example of such a story is the Chonchon in Peru and Chile, which is thought to be created when a sorcerer, known as a kaku, performs a magical rite causing his severed head to sprout giant ears and talons at death. The giant ears become wings.

This ubiquity of giant bat monster legends leads many archaeologists to propose that the monsters have a basis in encounters with a real animal – such as the vampire bat. The vampire bat is favoured because of its historical association with bloodletting and sacrifice, It is, however, possible that the legends could be derived from a giant bat that was present during the Pleistocene or early Holocene – one which may still exist today.

Artist’s illustration of a Chonchon. ( CC-BY-SA)
Giant Vampire Bats

In 1988, a fossil of a vampire bat was discovered in the Mongas province of Venezuela. The bat was larger than the modern vampire bat by 25% and was dubbed Desmodus Draculae. It is more popularly known as the giant vampire bat.

Sites containing examples of it have been found in the Yucatan, Belize, northern Brazil, and Venezuela. In 2000, a tooth from D. Draculae was found in Argentina – much farther south of the modern range of the Desmodus genus. It is difficult to date exactly when D. Draculae went extinct, or if it went extinct at all. All of the sites have been dated so far to between the Late Pleistocene and Late Holocene.

Desmodus Draculae. ( CC-BY-SA)
Desmodus Draculae. ( CC-BY-SA)

The latest age found for a D. Draculae site is 300 BP (circa 1650 AD). The latest age in central America is hard to ascertain, but it is probably either Late Pleistocene or Holocene. These dates make it very possible that D. Draculae coexisted with humans in South America and Central America, and humans could have come into contact with D. Draculae, though towards the Late Holocene they would have been vanishingly rare.

D. Draculae Sightings

In addition to this evidence, there have been mysterious sightings of giant bats or bat-like creatures. One of the earliest sightings dates to 1947 when J. Harrison claimed to have seen several large flying creatures which were described as giant bats (though some people also claimed that they were living pterosaurs).

In the early 1950s, a Brazilian couple claimed that they encountered a bat-like creature in the same valley that fossils of D. Draculae were discovered in Brazil. Another incident occurred in 1975 when an outbreak of animal mutilations hit Puerto Rico. A farmer said that he was repeatedly attack by two grey bird-like creatures. These creatures were also seen by others throughout the mutilation outbreak. Another sighting occurred in the mid-1970s in Texas, when a farmer asserted that he had encountered bald bat or pterosaur-like creatures with short beaks and gorilla-like faces. Three toed prints of this creature were also said to have been found.

Bat God from Zapotec Period IIIA. (Mary Harrsch/ CC BY NC SA 2.0 )
Bat God from Zapotec Period IIIA. (Mary Harrsch/ CC BY NC SA 2.0 )
Did D. Draculae Inspire the Story of Camazotz?

The common vampire bat, D. Rotundus has an eight-inch (20.32 cm) wingspan. Since D. Draculae was 25% larger, it would have required more blood and probably would have attacked larger animals – and possibly even humans. It is uncountable that an attack by a rare giant bat would give rise to legends of supernatural monsters.

Comparisons of the fossil skulls of Desmodus draculae (left) with the Common Vampire Bat, Desmodus rotundus . (Illustrations by Jan Freedman , based on the Figures in Morgan et al. 1988)
Comparisons of the fossil skulls of Desmodus draculae (left) with the Common Vampire Bat, Desmodus rotundus . (Illustrations by Jan Freedman , based on the Figures in Morgan et al. 1988)

Despite the tantalizing fossil evidence, and the strange stories about encounters with giant bats, there isn’t any indisputable evidence at the moment that D. Draculae was common enough to be encountered by ancient inhabitants of South America and Central America on a regular basis, or that the giant vampire bat is still alive today and could thus be the creature reported in giant bat sightings.

Nonetheless, the fact that the fossil evidence suggests that D. Draculae may have coexisted with humans for thousands of years in the Americas and the ubiquitous legends of bat-like monsters all over south and central America does make it a plausible connection.

This article (Batman Existed in Mesoamerican Mythology And His Name Was Camazotz) was originally created for Ancient Origins and is published here under Creative Commons.

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Researchers Opened The Stomach Of This Perfectly-Preserved Dinosaur ‘Mummy’ To Find Its Last Meal

“We were shocked to see beautifully preserved and concentrated plant material.”

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Researchers Opened The Stomach Of This Perfectly-Preserved Dinosaur ‘Mummy’ To Find Its Last Meal
Photo Credit: Mark Mitchelli/Royal Tyrrell Museum of Palaeontology

About 110 million years ago, a giant plant-eating Nodosaur gobbled down its last meal on Earth — and its stomach was preserved so well over time that scientists have now been able to determine what, exactly, its last meal was.

The remarkable specimen was first discovered in 2011 during a mining operation in Alberta, Canada.

The Nodosaur was found with its skin and guts intact and was altogether so well-preserved that it was referred to as a dinosaur “mummy.” A researcher involved in the study described the prehistoric specimen as having the best-preserved dinosaur stomach ever found to date.

A National Geographic video about the nodosaur, the best-preserved fossil of its kind ever discovered.

It took six years for Mark Mitchell, a technician at the Royal Tyrrell Museum of Palaeontology, to carefully dig out the dinosaur’s preserved skin and bones from the marine rock in which it had been encased. His efforts revealed a soccer ball-sized chunk of material left in the Nodosaur’s stomach.

The leaf fragments and other plant fossils were preserved down to the cells,” said David Greenwood, a biologist at Brandon University and co-author of the study.

The Nodosaur, or Borealopelta Markmitchelli, was an armoured giant. Despite its massive weight, which could be over a ton, the Nodosaur was a strict herbivore. And based on its stomach contents, its favourite vegetation was likely ferns.

A closer look at the nodosaur’s stomach contents.

After comparing its stomach contents with fossil leaves from the same time period and territory, researchers noted that the Nodosaur was a picky eater and preferred the soft leaves from certain types of ferns.

The lack of horsetails and rarity of cycads and conifers is surprising, given that these are very common in the surrounding flora,” said Caleb Marshall Brown, curator of dinosaur systematics and evolution at the Royal Tyrrell Museum of Palaeontology. “Even within ferns, it looks like Borealopelta may have had a preference for certain types of ferns while ignoring others.”

In total, researchers found 48 microfossils of pollen and spores, moss and liverwort, 26 club mosses and ferns, two flowering plants, and 13 conifers.

The study also noted that were pieces of charcoal in the Nodosaur’s stomach. This turned out to be consistent with its time period, as forest fires were a common occurrence during the early Cretaceous period and ferns, which were low to the ground, could survive.

This nodosaur is among the best-preserved dinosaur specimens known to date.
This nodosaur is among the best-preserved dinosaur specimens known to date.

Researchers estimated that a fire had indeed ravaged the grazing area of the Nodosaur about six months before it ate its last meal in the spring or summer.

“The discovery of charcoal together with a fern-filled stomach… suggested Borealopelta was likely a keystone herbivore that shaped the landscape by its grazing, and that it also grazed on the ferns growing in open areas created by wildfires,” Greenwood said. “That is so cool.”

The study was published in the journal Royal Society Open Science in June 2020.

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Island In The Clouds: Is Mount Roraima Really A ‘Lost World’ Where Dinosaurs May Still Exist?

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Island In The Clouds: Is Mount Roraima Really A ‘Lost World’ Where Dinosaurs May Still Exist?
Photo Credit: All That Interesting

Deep within the rainforests of Venezuela, a series of plateaus arise more than 9000 feet (2743 meters) off the ground. From above, they look like islands in the sky. These are the Tepuis (a Pemón Indian word for mountain), the most famous of which is called Mount Roraima. The Tepuis are so unique in their geography that thousands of plant species exist nowhere else on the planet except on these plateaus. The mystical mountains fascinated explorers and writers for centuries, most notably Sir Arthur Conan Doyle who described an ascent of Mount Roraima in his 1912 novel The Lost World. In Doyle’s novel, a group of explorers found that dinosaurs and other extinct creatures were still alive and well on the remote plateaus. Some people today still believe this to be a real possibility.

An illustration from Doyle’s ‘Lost World’ in which explorers encounter dinosaurs atop Mount Roraima. (public domain)
The Real Lost World

Once impenetrable to all but the Pemón indigenous people, Mount Roraima really was a lost world. The mountain plateaus were already established when South America was linked with Africa to form the supercontinent Gondwana, meaning they were first formed perhaps 400 to 250 million years ago. During this time, molten rock forced its way up through cracks in the sandstone landmass. At the same time, wind and water swept across Gondwana to erode the raised highlands into mountain ranges. The region would come to look much like it does now around 20 million years ago.

Because the Tepuis have been isolated for so long atop their high, lonely plateaus, the flora and fauna of the Tepuis provide an organic illustration of the processes of evolution. It is guessed that “at least half of the estimated 10,000 plant species here are unique to tepuis and surrounding lowlands. New species are still being discovered.” (George, 1989). Although all of the Tepuis have been climbed, only a few have been extensively explored. Could this mean that supposedly extinct species, even dinosaurs, may still exist atop these remote plateaus?

Mount Roraima. (Feel the Planet)
Mount Roraima. (Feel the Planet)
Could the Legends be Real?

The Roraima plateaus are so remote and so unique that it is not difficult to imagine Sir Arthur Conan Doyle creating a world alive with prehistoric plants and dinosaurs in his novel The Lost World. Doyle was fascinated with the accounts of British botanist Everard Im Thurn, who climbed to the top of Mount Roraima in December 1884.

Ascending Mount Roraima in 1989 for the National Geographic Society, German explorer Uwe George said, “None of us who followed Im Thurn to Roraima have found primordial creatures or their fossil remains there, but the terrain is so difficult that only a fraction of the Tepui’s 44 square miles has so far been explored” (George, 1989). Since his writing, more of Mount Roraima has been investigated and, unsurprisingly, no traces of dinosaurs have been found.

It is not hard to imagine dinosaurs walking atop these remote and ancient lands, but no evidence has been found to suggest this could be the case. ( Drwallpaper)
It is not hard to imagine dinosaurs walking atop these remote and ancient lands, but no evidence has been found to suggest this could be the case. (Drwallpaper)
Sacred Ground

Prior to the arrival of Europeans, the natives of Venezuela viewed the tepuis as having special mythical significance. According to the Pemón Indians, Mount Roraima is “the stump of a mighty tree that once held all the fruits and tuberous vegetables in the world,” however it was “felled by one of their ancestors, the tree crashed to the ground, unleashing a terrible flood” (Naeem, 2011). They believed that if a person ascended to the top of the tepuis, he or she would not come back alive.

Mysterious Islands in the Sky Unlock Secrets of Our Past: Return to Tepuis | Short Film Showcase
A ‘Crystal Mountain Covered with Diamonds and Waterfalls’

Climbing the Tepuis is exceedingly difficult and is made all the more so by the frequent rains that makes the rocky footpaths slippery and muddy. The first European explorer to write about the Tepuis was Sir Walter Raleigh in 1595. He wrote of a crystal mountain covered with diamonds and waterfalls:

“There falleth ouer it a mightie riuer which toucheth no parte of the side of the mountaine but…falleth to the grounde with a terrible noyse and clamor, as if 1000 great belles were knockt one against another…but what it hath I knowe not, neyther durst he or any of his men ascende to the toppe of the saide mountaine, those people adioyning being his enemies (as they were) and the way to it so impassible.” (Raleigh quoted in George, 1989).

There is a good chance that Sir Raleigh was describing Angel Falls, so named for the mid-20th century American Jimmie Angel who was the first person to fly over the area. Angel Falls were recently featured in Disney’s Up, where the falls are referred to as Paradise Falls.

A scene from Disney movie ‘Up’ showing ‘Paradise Falls’, which were based on Angel Falls at Mount Roraima.
A scene from Disney movie ‘Up’ showing ‘Paradise Falls’, which were based on Angel Falls at Mount Roraima.

While today’s travellers may not stumble upon dinosaurs and other prehistoric creatures, they will be able to see black frogs and tarantulas that exist nowhere else on the planet. It is believed there are many other species unique to Roraima that are yet to be discovered.

This article (Island In The Clouds: Is Mount Roraima Really A ‘Lost World’ Where Dinosaurs May Still Exist?) was originally created for Ancient Origins and is published here under Creative Commons.

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Scientists Discover 400-Year-Old Greenland Shark Likely Born Around 1620

Greenland sharks are now the longest-living vertebrates known on Earth, according to scientists.

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Photo Credit: Dive Magazine

Researchers used radiocarbon dating of eye proteins to determine the ages of 28 Greenland sharks, and estimated that one female was about 400 years old. The former vertebrate record-holder was a bowhead whale estimated to be 211 years old.

As lead author Julius Nielsen, a marine biologist from the University of Copenhagen, put it: “We had our expectations that we were dealing with an unusual animal, but I think everyone doing this research was very surprised to learn the sharks were as old as they were.”

Scientists Discover 400-Year-Old Greenland Shark Likely Born Around 1620
Greenland sharks swim through the cold waters of the Arctic and the North Atlantic at such a sluggish pace that has earned them the nickname “sleeper sharks.” Image credit: Julius Nielsen

Greenland sharks are huge and can grow up to 5m in length. Yet, they grow at just 1cm a year. They can be found, swimming slowly, throughout the cold, deep waters of the North Atlantic.

The team believes the animals only reach sexual maturity when they are 4m-long. And with this new, very lengthy age-range, it suggests this does not occur until the animals are about 150 years old.

A newly tagged Greenland shark returns to the deep and cold waters of the Uummannaq Fjord in western Greenland. Image credit: Julius Nielsen

The research was made possible, in part, by the atmospheric thermonuclear weapons tests conducted during the 1960s, which released massive amounts of radiocarbon that were then absorbed by organisms in ocean ecosystems. Sharks that showed evidence of elevated radiocarbon in the nucleus of their eye tissue were therefore born after the so-called “bomb pulse,” and were younger than 50 years old, while sharks with lower radiocarbon levels were born prior to that, and were at least 50 years old or older, the study authors wrote.

The scientists then calculated an age range for the older sharks based on their size, and on prior data about Greenland sharks’ size at birth and growth rates in fish.

A Greenland shark near the ocean surface after its release from research vessel Sanna in northern Greenland. Image credit: Julius Nielsen
A Greenland shark near the ocean surface after its release from research vessel Sanna in northern Greenland. Image credit: Julius Nielsen

According to the results of the analysis – which has a probability rate of about 95% – the sharks were at least 272 years old, and could be as much as 512 years old (!) with 390 years as the most likely average life span, according to Nielsen.

Oldest Shark in the World – 512 Year Old Greenland Shark

But why do Greenland sharks live so long?

Their longevity is actually attributed to their very slow metabolism and the cold waters that they inhabit. They swim through the cold waters of the Arctic and the North Atlantic at such a sluggish pace that has earned them the nickname “sleeper sharks.” Seal parts have been found in their bellies, but the sharks move so slowly that experts have suggested that the seals must have been asleep or already dead when the sharks ate them.

The slower you go, the farther you will be.

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Viking Grave Found Under The Floorboards Of A Home In Norway

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Viking Grave
Photo Credit: Nordland County

A Norwegian couple made an unusual historic discovery during renovations of their home. They found a number of Viking era artifacts, and now archaeologists believe that they have found a Viking grave, right there, under their floor. Experts are currently carrying out a survey of the site and the grave is being hailed as a very significant find.

The couple made the find while tearing up some floorboards in their family home in Seivåg near Bodø in Northern Norway. They were laying insulation when they came across some strangely shaped rocks.

Naturally, they were curious, and then they saw something round glinting in the light. They knew that it had to be old because the house had been built in 1914 and the floorboards had not been moved since. The house has been in the same family for over a century.

This Valuable Viking Grave is Missing Something Important
Viking Burial Under the Boards

Based on the shape of the object “they first believed it was the wheel of a toy car” according to The Local. The couple only later realized that what they had found could be something historic.

After some further digging, the couple found an iron axe head and some other metallic objects, that were all obviously old. ‘It wasn’t until later that we realized what it could be” Mariann Kristiansen, one of the owners of the house, told The Local.

Viking ax head, representation of the find at the Viking burial site in Norway. (British Museum / CC BY-SA 2.0 )
Viking ax head, representation of the find at the Viking burial site in Norway. (British Museum / CC BY-SA 2.0)

The couple contacted the local authorities and experts from the local Nordland county government came to inspect the finds. Martinus Hauglid told the couple that they had most likely found a grave from the Iron Age in Norway. This was the era when the Vikings ruled in Scandinavia and terrified most of the known world.

The archaeologist told The Local that the couple had found an “axe dated between 950 and 1050 AD.” The bead of glass, which was revealed to be blue dates from the same period.

A glass bead was among the first objects discovered in the Viking grave. ( Nordland County )
A glass bead was among the first objects discovered in the Viking grave. (Nordland County)
Viking Cairn

It is believed that the stones found underneath the flooring came from a burial. The stones were likely part of a cairn. In this type of burial, a mound of stones and rocks are erected over the deceased which was a very common burial practice in the Iron Age.

A number of similar cairns were found in the Lendbreen Mountain Pass in Norway when a glacier melted. This was an important trade route in the Middle Ages.

Martinus congratulated the couple on their find and stated that they had done a good job, by reporting things so soon. The archaeologist said that it was the first instance of a Viking grave being found under a private dwelling in his 30 year career.

Archaeologists have begun an investigation of the grave. Forbes reports that under Norwegian Law any human artifacts or “activity before 1537 are automatically preserved.” The items found by the couple have been transported to a museum for conservation and safekeeping.

These stones formed the top of what archaeologists believe is a Viking burial ground. ( Nordland County )
These stones formed the top of what archaeologists believe is a Viking burial ground. (Nordland County)
End of the Viking Age

Martinus is quoted by Forbes as stating that the finds under the floorboards date back to a time “when Norway transitioned to Christianity to become one kingdom.” This was the time when kings like Olaf Tryggvason, attempted to dominate the many chiefdoms and create a centralized state.

Some of these monarchs sought to impose Christianity on the pagan Norse as part of their efforts at state-building and this led to many civil wars. The grave could help researchers to better understand this crucial period in Norwegian history which saw the demise of the Viking Age.

It appears that the original builders of the house, over a century ago, were not aware that they were building a private residence on a grave. It is quite possible that they unearthed items and simply discarded them. This raises the possibility that some Viking-era grave goods were lost or destroyed during the construction of the family home.

Viking era grave goods displayed at the National Museum of Iceland. (A.Davey / CC BY-NC-ND 2.0 )
Viking era grave goods displayed at the National Museum of Iceland. (A.Davey / CC BY-NC-ND 2.0 

This article (Viking Grave Found Under The Floorboards Of A Home In Norway) was originally created for Ancient Origins and is published here under Creative Commons.

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