Thursday, January 15, 2015

What goes around, comes around.

Ruins?  Is this an appropriate label for the broken and dilapidated structures dotting the landscape in almost every part of the world?   These "reminders" of past civilizations can be mysterious, majestic, unreal, and captivating.  In our travels, we have visited some of the most well known of these ancient civilizations: Machu Picchu, Chichen Itza, Angkor Wat, Mesa Verde, Chaco Canyon, Tikal, Bagan; and we have hiked, biked, and wandered the lonely trails of many other lesser known but fascinating sites.

Visiting these ancient cities has given us enormous joy, immense pleasure, and hours of worthwhile and provocative conversation during our
travels.  While we have occasionally been accompanied by those with a rich and local knowledge of sites, we have found we generally prefer to experience and peruse sites by ourselves without a guide.  We thrive on the thrill of discovery as we wander into and through the site, finding carvings, stelae, bas-reliefs, faces, murals, or any number of other things ----- characteristics of each individual site that we have usually researched ahead of time.  Yet it is not the intellectual research that sends us forward to explore new sites, it is the quiet reflective moments that we share in silent wonder of what came before us and what shall follow.  We have stared out over ancient geometric patterns on valley floors, temples rising by the thousands on desert plateaus, secret structures camouflaged in deep canyons, fortresses on mountain tops, and pyramids in raucous jungles. Often, only our imaginations are left uncovered and unexplored as we gaze at the carefully placed rocks and crumbling mortar.

After considering each site, we have determined that all or most possess some common attributes.  All connect us to ancient civilizations but it is the ways those connections are manifested in each of us that make our experiences in visiting them so individualistic.  All have been constructed using laborious methods that befuddle our imaginations and precise, exact sciences that we are certain should never have been known during those ancient times.  Worship, if our archaeological interpretations are correct, was of the highest importance to each civilization.  A class system of some sort was usually how society was structured.  War and armed conflict, both among neighboring settlements and other locales many miles removed, were common.  Empire building seemed to be a priority as the conflicts resulted in more and more land/villages being consolidated under the rule of one leader or tribe.

Probably the most perplexing common attribute is that many of these civilizations simply disappeared......or did they?  Our knowledge of ancient peoples grows with our knowledge of science.  Studies of ancient soils, plants, animals, and weather tell us that severe drought for years or even decades devastated more than one civilization.  Other studies surmise that some peoples were simply
engulfed by a "superior" civilization and their identity ceased.  Still other evidence points to the complete destruction/devastation of the local environment and over use of resources leading to subsequent collapse.  In these times, the educated and the elite may have been the first to perish and recorded history may have halted although some life went on with locals forgetting their history or heritage.

When one looks at these ancient societies, it is difficult to avoid looking at ourselves as we exist today.  "History repeats itself" is a common saying that should make us all a little reflective about  our future.  Are "ruins" on our horizon?  Are we, too, destined to become another civilization that just disappears?  Who will gaze at our relics a thousand years from now?  What will be whole and what will be "ruined"?

Posted in San Ignacio, Belize.  Images are of Machu Pichu, Peru; Palenque, Mexico; Angor Thom, Cambodia; and Tikal, Guatemala.

1 comment:

  1. Thanks for giving me, again, a different perception. I'll see "ruins" from another point of view now.