Mayan Ruins, How Often We Think of Rome

This month, I took a trip to Central America to see Mayan ruins, learn about sacrificial ball games, and eat some delicious food. I was not disappointed on any of these counts, despite a hurricane breathing down my neck.

My tour of the ruins ranged from Mexico through neighboring Belize, and included the excavations at Tulum, Chacchoben, and Lamanai. These were once painted in striking colors, and glittered bright in the sun: a stairway to heaven for Mayan priests to commune with the gods. As with the Roman ruins in Ephesus, the merest fraction of these sites has been uncovered; tantalizingly, there are numerous overgrown mounds in the surrounding jungle that mark the presence of still-buried structures, just waiting to be exhumed. Lidar analysis confirms the sheer expansiveness of Mayan builders throughout Central America, and it tantalizes the imagination to think what future discoveries are waiting to be made.

While there, I got yelled at by howler monkeys who apparently felt we were getting too close to their turf. Howler monkeys aren’t especially large–about 30 inches–but they sound like King Kong. It is a seriously intimidating roar.

Following this site-hopping, I made a quick stop in Honduras for good food and drinks (including the weather-appropriate Hurricane). And when I returned home, Cyrus made a very subtle recommendation as to what I should include in my carryon the next time I travel…

Appropriately enough, while I was in Honduras, a friend of mine brought to my attention that there’s a question circulating the diseased halls of social media, asking people how often they think about the Roman Empire… specifically, if we think about it every day. Memes aside, I do indeed think of the Roman Empire every day. The Roman Republic, too. And nearly as often, Hellenistic Greece, Middle Kingdom Egypt, Sumer and Babylonia, Han Dynasty China, Mohenjo-daro, Edo-period Japan, the Aztecs, the Mongols, and as much of the past as possible.

I wish more people did. History is the great teacher. It’s the story of us. It connects us, warns us, and guides us. I honestly don’t understand people who lack (or even deride) an appreciation of how we arrived at today.

The world is complex. Without history, we ignore that complexity in favor of the most superficial (and usually dishonest) brushstrokes.┬áMaybe then we’d be able to talk about geopolitical events with nuance and complexity, instead of the Brundlefly fusion of ignorance and arrogance that dominates national discourse today.

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