Archive for the ‘Interviews with Experts’ Category

Q & A With Study Leader Moshe Gershovitz

Monday, December 14th, 2009

Moshe Gershovich  is Professor of Modern Middle Eastern History at the University of Nebraska-Omaha (UNO). In recent years, Moshe has taken groups of UNO students to Morocco where they were immersed in the study of Arabic and North African history and culture. He will be serving as Study Leader on our Moroccan Discovery tour. Here, he takes a few minutes to tell us about one of his favorite places.

Sand dunes of Erg Chebbi Morocco. Photo: Hank Meijer, Smithsonian Magazine Photo Contest

Smithsonian Journeys: Considering all of the incredible stops on this journey and your two plus years residence in Morocco, what would you say is the single most breathtaking destination on the itinerary?

Moshe Gershovich: Having to choose just one breathtaking spot in Morocco is almost akin to choosing one of your children as more beloved than the others. Once you get out and about into the countryside, the beauty of the landscape appears to pop up from every curve in the road. One of my favorite stretches of road is the fifteen-minute drive from Ifrane to Azrou. It is surrounded by a lush evergreen forest of trees, the road twists and turns throughout the ride. Occasional breaks in the woods reveal magnificent scenery miles away in the distance. Another great vista point is the start of the Ziz Valley on the road to Erfoud. You can see thick groves of palm trees hugging the curve of the river below as it flows toward the Tafilalt Oasis.

Still, having to pick my ultimate breathtaking spot, I can think of no experience that could rival the majestic splendor of the sun setting behind the sand dunes at Merzouga. What better ending could there be to a busy day spent mostly at and around the Tafilalt with its bustling center of Risani, than the silence of the open dunes, climbed by foot or atop a camel just in time to see the twilight falling on the endless desert. The eerie silence engulfs you and the warm sand threatens to flood your shoes as you turn to descend back to your awaiting bus.

SJ: During your tenure at Al-Akhawayn University in Ifrane, Morocco, what became your favorite way to spend a free day? Exploring medinas? Treks in the High Atlas Mountains?

MG: When free of teaching and other academic work for AUI, I used to travel towns and villages in the Middle Atlas interviewing Moroccan veterans of the French Army who had fought in WWII and other wars. My travels brought me to places that few foreigners had ever heard about, let alone visited. In these research trips I came to know the “real” Morocco, the one rarely seen from the main roads and famous sites.

For recreation and pleasure I used to wander the woods around Ifrane, where mighty cedar trees form the natural habitat of the Barbary Apes. A short distance from there is the quiet town of Azrou. There, I would frequent the shops of the marketplace and chat with the vendors. My absolute favorite shopping experience was on Saturday morning, during the local Farmer’s Market of Ifrane. I enjoyed strolling among the mountains of fresh fruits and vegetables and marveled at their quality and affordability. It gave me the opportunity to practice my conversational skills in Moroccan Arabic, peppered with French expression whenever I’d get stuck. What’s the perfect way to conclude such a morning? A chilled glass of freshly-squeezed orange juice made from locally-grown fruit from a nearby orchard.

SJ: How did tea — made from Chinese “gun powder” tea – become such a major part of Moroccan culture? Did the early Parisian salons de thé have anything to do with it?

MG: The manner in which tea became such an important staple of the Moroccan diet remains an open question, as is the time it happened. One thing is clear: the origins of tea’s popularity precede the arrival of French influence in the country. Most likely, it dates back to the 18th century if not earlier, and it’s linked to the opening of Morocco’s economy to foreign trade, mainly with Britain.

Tea drinking is a social ritual in Morocco. Whenever you visit a Moroccan home, regardless of how affluent or poor the household may be, you will always be offered a hot and steaming cup of tea. It is served in a silver (or tin) pot with thin, colorful glasses (always one more than the number of drinkers; the hostess would use it to pour tea back and forth to the pot to enhance the strength). No matter how hot the weather may be, or how full you are from your previous meal, refusal to drink is unthinkable, an affront to the host. The pouring of the tea is done while raising the pot higher and higher without a single drop of the trickling hot liquid missing the glass.

On the third day of their trip, members of the Moroccan Discovery tour will get a unique tea drinking experience. Late in the afternoon, they will gather at the outdoor salon de thé  in the Kasbah of Oudaias. There in the Andalusian Garden that faces the walls of Salé, the tour group will enjoy drinking sweet mint tea and munch on some of the yummiest pastries and cookies in all of Morocco (at least according to my mom, who visited Morocco nearly a decade ago and still savors the taste to this day). The view is beautiful as the last rays of the setting sun settle on the horizon.

What’s your favorite view? Share below.

Curious about Morocco? We can help. Travel to Morocco with Smithsonian Journeys – space is still available on our 2010 tours.

Stuck at home for now? Read more about the donkeys of Fez, Morocco, and their care at the American Foundouk in Smithsonian magazine.

Costa Rica: Q&A with Dr. Suzann Murray

Wednesday, November 18th, 2009

Dr. Suzann Murray is the Chief Veterinarian at the Smithsonian’s National Zoo in Washington, D.C. She oversees the health care of the zoo’s entire animal collection, as well as conservation, research, and training programs. Here, she takes a few minutes out of her busy schedule to talk about the biodiversity of Costa Rica, where she leads our Costa Rica Discovery  tours.

Oak Tiger Butterfly. Photo: Phil Parsons

 

Smithsonian Journeys: As Chief Veterinarian at the National Zoo, how do you integrate your diverse knowledge of animals to create a memorable learning experience on Smithsonian Journeys tours?

Suzann Murray: I have the opportunity to work with a diverse range of species, from fish to mammals and birds to reptiles. Each species, and in some cases, each animal, has its own adaptations to its natural environment. I enjoy using my medical knowledge of animals as a way to provide some “inside” knowledge to tour members. To me, the diversity of animal life is just fascinating. Having the opportunity to share my knowledge of animal adaptations is a great joy.

Q. Costa Rica is nestled between Nicaragua and Panama in Central America and borders both the Pacific Ocean and the Caribbean Sea. How does this geographic location contribute to the rich biodiversity found in Costa Rica?

A. Costa Rica is one of the most biodiverse countries in the world, largely due to its two coasts and mountainous ranges that provide a wide range of topography and microclimates for a huge variety of species. From flatlands close to sea level up to the cloud forests of the volcanoes, the varying habitats are suitable for incredible animal diversity. The abundance of rivers and the access to the ocean and the Caribbean Sea also make it possible for endangered species such as dolphins and sea turtles to call Costa Rica home. Finally, by being so close to the equator, the temperature is in an ideal range to support almost any kind of plant or animal life.

Q. Our trip will visit the Arenal Volcano, Costa Rica’s most well-known volcano, which is considered one of the most active volcanoes in the world. How has the Arenal’s presence impacted the surrounding environment?

A. Arenal produces frequent and moderate eruptions. The course of the lava flow has also changed over the years. In areas of previous eruptions, we will be able to observe the re-growth of secondary forest and compare that terrain to the more lava-covered areas of recent eruptions. The south side of the Volcano is known for its unique cloud forest, and it is also known as a region in which world-class coffee is grown.

Q. What types of animals can Smithsonian travelers look forward to seeing in the rainforest: mammals, birds, reptiles, insects? Are there any endemic species that participants may encounter on this trip?

A. If you are a bird enthusiast, Costa Rica is the place to go. If you are not yet interested in birds, be prepared to join the growing ranks of birders! The sheer numbers and types of birds we will see are truly astounding–from colorful smaller birds such as hummingbirds, flycatchers, and toucans, to larger birds of prey and storks. Some of these birds are found only in Costa Rica. For those who are truly wild about mammals or reptiles, we will look for the impressive howler and spider monkeys, unique sloths, sea turtles, caiman crocodiles, and possibly even the rare dolphin. Whether we are searching in the land, sea, or air–we will be seeing an abundance of wildlife.

What’s your favorite tropical animal? Share below.

Click here for educational travel opportunities in Costa Rica for you and your family.

Iditarod: Q&A with Rich Montagna

Wednesday, November 4th, 2009

Rich Montagna is a professional photographer and tour guide with more than 30 years experience exploring and photographing the Alaskan frontier. He founded one of the first companies to offer tours of the Iditarod Sled Dog Race. Here, we sit down with him to talk about what brings him back to the race year after year.

Iditarod Racers. Photo: Rich Montagna

 

Smithsonian Journeys: What is unique about the Iditarod race and what does it mean to Alaskans?

Rich Montagna: There really isn’t another event in North America that pits man and dog together against such harsh conditions as a dog sled race across the Alaskan wilderness. The Iditarod  was the first race to do this and was started by a small group of mushing enthusiasts who wanted to bring mushing back into the villages. From that start it has grown into the world famous event it is now. Alaskans consider it to be the greatest adventure sporting event in the world and it is their own.

SJ: The first Iditarod Trail Sled Dog Race was run in 1973. How did the Iditarod Race become the “The Last Great Race on Earth”?

RM: In 1978 a British reporter named Ian Woolridge, wrote an article about the race. In the article he used the words, “The Last Great Race on Earth” to explain his thoughts and observations about the race. Later the Iditarod committee got permission from Ian to trademark the term.

SJ: Thousands of fans and volunteers from all over the world return each year for the Race. Why does the Iditarod continue to draw an international audience?

RM: People love dogs, and the excitement of the thousand or so frenzied sled dogs at the start is quite the experience. People also love adventure and I think many vicariously experience the challenges and rewards of traveling through wilderness areas of Alaska on a dog sled by following the race and getting to know the mushers and what they endure along the trail. It has to be one of the greatest adventures in North America.

SJ: What kind of dogs race the Iditarod?

RM: Most Iditarod sled dogs are Alaskan Huskies, a mix of different breeds that have been selected to optimize their ability to pull a sled over a long distance at a fast trot. At the core of mix is the Siberian Husky, a working dog who was born to run and pull and is well suited to the arctic climate. Other breeds that have been mixed in include hounds, greyhounds, whippets, labs and others. These mixed breed dogs have now developed into lines of dogs that have their own pedigree.

SJ: How are the dogs cared for along the race route?

RM: First off each dog has a computer chip inserted under its skin that is scanned at the checkpoints for identification. At the checkpoint veterinarians will check each dog for general health, sore feet, injuries and dehydration. The vet has the authority to pull a dog from the team if they feel it is unfit to continue. Along the trail the mushers rest and snack their dogs usually every few hours or so, check feet, change booties if they need to and make sure the dogs get enough calories and water to keep them going. At the checkpoints the dogs have straw to lay on and are always watered fed and looked after before the mushers takes care of themselves.

SJ: What happens to a dog if it gets hurt while on the trail?

RM: The musher will put the injured dog into the sled bag that is on the sled and carry it to the next checkpoint where the vet will examine and treat the dog. If the dog has to be dropped from the team it will be flown back into Anchorage and taken to an animal hospital if needed or to the dropped dog lot at the Eagle Correctional Institute where the inmates care for them until they are picked up.

SJ: All of the dogs are extreme athletes. How many calories does a dog typically consume per day?

RM: During the race their average consumption is about 10,000 per day.

SJ: What got you into leading groups to the Iditarod Race and why do you continue year after year?

RM: I had lived for a number of years in the McGrath checkpoint on the Kuskokwim River and saw how much friends of mine who came to watch the race enjoyed mingling with the mushers, being volunteers and feeling like they were a part of the event. So I started a tour company that gave the clients as much of the Iditarod race experience as I could. Some of my clients tell me their Iditarod tour has been one of the best experiences they have ever had and I thoroughly enjoy the time I spend with my clients making sure they get the most from their Iditarod adventure.

SJ: The Iditarod Race is almost fully run by volunteers. What volunteer opportunities are there for Smithsonian Journeys travelers?

RM: The Smithsonian Journeys travelers will be able to go through the Iditarod dog handler certification training if they choose and then be able to help bring the dog teams up to the starting line at the restart in Willow. They can also choose to work security at the race starts.

SJ: You’re also a photographer. Do you have any tips of advice on shooting the dogs during the race?

RM: I have a series of shots that I tend to do each race. In the early morning I wander the through the starting area photographing the dog teams in their boxes or being pulled out and hooked up. This is also a great time to get close-up photos of the mushers. I use a wide angle (12-24mm) telephoto lens and a mid length (28-105mm) telephoto lens. I also bring a flash unit. After the race starts I go to the end of the road at the 1st turn and use a long lens (200mm or longer ) to photograph the teams coming at me and taking the corner. On Sunday I do the same thing at the restart in Willow.

Click for your chance to travel to the Iditarod with Smithsonian Journeys.

What’s your favorite snowy pasttime? Share below.

Q&A With Study Leader Dana Sachs

Wednesday, October 21st, 2009
Dana Sachs is Study Leader on our 2010 Journey Through Vietnam. As a Fulbright Scholar in Hanoi, she conducted research for a book on Operation Babylift, the U.S.-sponsored evacuation of displaced children at the end of the war in Vietnam. Here, she chats with Smithsonian Journeys about her time in Vietnam and her research there.

 

Woman rowing in Vietnam.

Woman rowing in Vietnam.

 

Smithsonian Journeys: You lived in Hanoi for two years. What would you especially highlight on our itinerary and what impressions would you hope our travelers will take home with them?

Dana Sachs: One of the things that surprises visitors most when they visit Vietnam is the diversity of the country. The northern Red River Delta region around Hanoi has four seasons, so people on our January and February trips enjoy crisp days and nights when they’ll want to carry a jacket. In Hanoi at this time of year, we get to see people bundled in sweaters and hats, eating dried fruit candies and relaxing together in little street-side cafes with cups of strong coffee. In Vietnam’s central region, the days are cool and misty, perfect for bike rides through the quiet cities of Hue and Hoi An, where people maintain the traditions of fishing and making handicrafts that have been passed down for centuries. In Saigon, the country’s thriving metropolis, the weather is hot but pleasant, just the right temperature to finish up a walk through a teeming market with a cool glass of sugar cane juice or plate of fresh pineapple.

Each of these regions has its own particular highlights. I tell people that they can’t leave Hanoi without taking a walking tour through the Old Quarter, a warren of tiny lanes and back alleys named for the things that have been sold there for centuries (Sweet Street, Silver Street, Prayer Paper Street—the list goes on and on). In the Central Region, I always love to wander through the ruins of the Imperial Purple Forbidden City (also known as the Citadel), and to travel outside of town to visit the overgrown and romantic gardens surrounding the tombs of the kings. In the South, I recommend kicking back on a boat that takes you down the canals and streams of the Mekong Delta. Right from the deck, you can witness the life of a vibrant river culture, with people washing their hair on the banks, or fishing from hand-crafted canoes, or trading in the floating markets that stretch across the river near Can Tho every morning.

One of the great highlights for me, as well, is the fact that visiting this year coincides with Hanoi’s celebration of its 1000th anniversary. It’s a year-long party, and I’m excited about being there for it.

SJ: The Thien Mu Pagoda (Hue) has existed since the early 17th century and is famous throughout Vietnam. What is the story of the pagoda?

DS: Thien Mu, with its beautiful seven-story tower, has become one of the enduring symbols of Hue. That’s appropriate, because the pagoda, like the city itself, is a thing of great beauty that shows the scars of intense suffering. First built in the early 17th Century, it has for hundreds of years served as a center of spiritual retreat for Buddhist monks. In 1963, the pagoda became famous for a different reason. It was the height of the war and the monks had become increasingly frustrated by the treatment of Buddhists by South Vietnamese President Ngo Dinh Diem, who was a Catholic. One monk from the pagoda, Thich Quang Duc, immolated himself on the streets of Saigon, and the photograph of his burning body, seated in lotus position, became one of the most horrifying images of the war. These days, the automobile that carried Thich Quang Duc to Saigon remains parked on the grounds of the pagoda, and the site has become a place of pilgrimage for those who remember those terrible times.

SJ: From what I have read, the Perfume River deserves its name. It seems that beyond, or perhaps thanks to, its aromatic and languid waters, the river is almost a state of mind. Can you tell us more?

DS: This question reminds me of one more thing about the Thien Mu Pagoda. When we visited on my most recent trip with Smithsonian Journeys, we travelled there by boat along the river. The boat brought us to the banks below the pagoda and we walked up to visit. From this hillside, you could look out over the river moving slowly past. Like so much of Hue, the scene was quiet and absolutely peaceful. Only a few brightly colored fishing boats slipped by in the current. It made perfect sense to me that, all those centuries ago, a Nguyen Lord decided to locate a pagoda here. For me, then, the “perfume” of the river becomes intimately connected with the fragrance of the incense burning at the altars throughout the pagoda. It’s a lovely scent that, in my mind, seems inextricably linked with the serenity of the pagoda and the quiet of the river.

SJ: Perhaps at no other point in the itinerary will our travelers come as close to the reality of the Vietnam War than in Ho Chi Minh City (Saigon). One focus of your academic work is Operation Babylift (from Saigon) and its consequences. Please tell us about it.

DS: Looking back, it seems hard to believe that such a thing happened. It was early April of 1975. The North Vietnamese-backed troops were closing in on Saigon and everyone knew that the collapse of South Vietnam was only weeks away. In the midst of this chaos, the U.S. government embarked on a mission to evacuate some 3,000 children and put them in adoptive homes overseas. Most of these children were already living in orphanages run by foreign-aid groups. A significant number, however, were relinquished in the final weeks of war by panicked Vietnamese parents who worried that their children would be killed by the Communists if they remained in Vietnam. After the war ended, it became clear that those children would have survived. By then, however, they had already been placed with new families overseas. The program had taken the children out of the country, but there was no system in place to repatriate them.

My research included interviewing numerous people who were involved in the Babylift, including the foreign aid workers who had taken charge of these kids, local women who cared for them in the orphanages, medical staff, U.S. government officials, adoptive parents, biological parents and, of course, the children themselves. The book comes out in April 2010, on the 35th anniversary of the end of the war. Its title, The Life we were Given: Operation Babylift, International Adoption, and the Children of War in Vietnam, comes from a comment I heard from one of the now-adult adoptees. I had asked him if he harbored any anger over what had happened to him. He told me that he didn’t see a point to feeling angry. “This,” he told me, “is the life we were given.”

SJ: Hanoi finally became “Hanoi” in the 19th century, although it has been a capital or center since the 3rd century BC, and many of the historic sites our travelers will see there date to the pivotal 11th century. Please shed light on what our travelers can look forward to discovering in this historically significant city.

DS: As I mentioned, Hanoi is about to celebrate it’s 1000th anniversary. Like Rome or Athens, it is a city that has existed as an important political, economic, and cultural center for centuries. When you walk down a street in Hanoi, you are literally walking over the remains of the past. Several years ago, while the government was making preparations to build a new parliament building, crews started excavating a piece of land in the center of the city. Not far below the surface, they began unearthing an enormous cache of artifacts. The discovery included, literally, millions of clues to Vietnam’s history: 600-year-old bricks, 15th Century blue and white bowls from the Le Dynasty, celadon platters, even the bones of elephants, which were used for labor in early Vietnam. The discovery marked the site of the royal enclosure of the Thang Long Citadel, the seat of power during the period when Hanoi was known as Thang Long. Scholars had always suspected that it existed but it wasn’t until this modern age, when they were making preparations for a monument to the current government, that they finally found incontrovertible evidence of its existence.

SJ: So many Vietnamese place names are dragon-based, e.g., Ha Long (Descending Dragon) Bay—how did the dragon become the starring figure in Vietnamese mythology and folklore?

DS: Vietnamese culture includes four sacred animals: The phoenix, the unicorn, the tortoise and the dragon. The dragon is the most powerful and, in many ways, stands for the strength of the nation. It’s not surprising, then, that many important Vietnamese names refer to the dragon. The Vietnamese name for the river we call the Mekong is Cuu Long, which means Nine Dragons. For many centuries, Hanoi was called Thang Long, which means Rising Dragon, an image that evokes power within the culture. The famous natural wonder, Ha Long Bay, is named for the “descending dragon” which legend says dove in and out of the water, creating islands as it churned the sea. As we travel through the country, we see these figures again and again. Stone stele of the tortoise, which represents longevity and wisdom, line the pavilions of Hanoi’s Temple of Literature, the ancient seat of learning. Statues of unicorns and phoenixes decorate pagodas and temples from the north to the south. But these images aren’t simply archaic. In Hanoi, a backpackers guesthouse carries a familiar name. It’s called the Rising Dragon Hotel. A charity race in Saigon: Challenge of the Nine Dragons. If you want a clearer idea of the importance of the dragon as a symbol in Vietnam, consider the importance of a flying creature in our own national identity—the Bald Eagle.

What do you want to see in Vietnam? Share below.

See Vietnam for yourself on one of our tours to the country.

Read more about Vietnam in Smithsonian magazine.

Q & A on Guatemala

Monday, October 19th, 2009

Dr. Thomas Garrison has been working in Mesoamerican and Maya archaeology for more than ten years. He is currently one of the directors of a multidisciplinary project in the area surrounding the Classic Maya site of El Zotz, Guatemala and has his project laboratory in the colonial city of Antigua. Tom is ably serving as Study Leader on our new  2010 Guatemala tours. Here he talks to us about his work there.

 
Ruins in Tikal, Guatemala

Pyramids and monuments in Tikal, Guatemala

Smithsonian Journeys: What sparked your interest and subsequent career in Mesoamerican and Maya archaeology?

Tom Garrison: I had always been attracted to archaeology since I was a kid. I grew up in a house that was built in 1720 and would always find old nails and pieces of horse hair plaster in my mother’s garden. After taking a couple of college classes I was pretty hooked on archaeology, but it was my six months studying abroad in Mexico and Belize that made me choose Mesoamerican archaeology as a career. I was overwhelmed by the mysteries of all those ruins and I remember thinking on my plane flight home, “I have to get back down there, SOON!”

SJ:  Mile high Panajachel (Gringotenango) sits on the shore of volcanic Lake Atitlan, known as the deepest lake in Central America and one of the most beautiful in the entire world. How did this area escape settlement until the middle of the Post Classical Maya era (c.1300 CE)?

TG: This is an interesting question given results that were just presented at Guatemala’s annual Simposio de Investigaciones Arqueologicos (in which I participated) in July. Recent underwater archaeology at the lake suggests that there actually is a much earlier presence in this area, but that changes in lake levels have obscured the previously undetected settlement. I think that we will see some very exciting archaeology coming out of Panajachel and Lake Atitlan in the very near future.

SJ:   We hear about the extensive area covered by monumental stone pyramids and other structures as well as plazas and causeways, including palaces. Where did ordinary people live? In extended “suburbs”? Or in discontinuous villages or on farms? And of what were their dwellings constructed?

 
TG:These “rural” areas are actually the focus of my current research. I spend my time tromping around the jungle in the areas between major sites. What we find would be almost unrecognizable to the untrained eye. A very low bump on the forest floor, when excavated, reveals itself to be a crudely made platform that would have supported a pole and thatch or wattle and daub perishable structure. Nearby there is usually one or two other platform remains, as well as a small quarry where construction material was excavated and one or two bedrock cisterns (chultunes) that may have held water or stored dry food. The impression that one gets is that of scattered family farmsteads.

SJ: We know that directional orientation of temples and observatories was key to their layout and arrangement. And we know that the earliest evidence of human occupation in Mesoamerica dates to about 10,000 BCE. Can archaeologists estimate when in their development people would begin to somehow record celestial observations and how long it took them to acquire enough observations to utilize these findings in their architectural creations?

TG:These sorts of cognitive developments are very difficult to trace archaeologically. In Mesoamerica the yearly cycles of the sun and stars would have become intimately linked once humans began living in Archaic agricultural villages following the domestication of maize, beans, and squash (6000-5000 BCE). In the Early Formative Period (2000-1200 BCE) we begin to see remains of a shared ideology, usually in the form of crude figurines found at sites like Tlatilco in central Mexico. The astrological and agricultural cycles were probably woven into this ideology at an early stage, so that by the time the Olmec arrive (ca. 1200 BCE) they are already orienting their public architecture and plazas based on celestial observations.

SJ:  What are the principle differences our Smithsonian travelers should look for from Pre-Classical to Classical to Post-Classical Maya sites?


TG:
Most of what we will get to see on our tour that will immediately stand out are the changes in architecture. Preclassic structures, such as the Mundo Perdido (Lost World) complex at Tikal,  are massive, with large bases and large stones. This is also a time period when the Maya placed large masks on architectural facades (some of which are exposed at Tikal) representing gods and rulers. Classic Period sites, like Yaxha and most of Tikal, are what people think of when they think “Maya” (which is why they are Classic!). You have soaring pyramids with multi-chambered vaulted temples on top. There are sprawling elite palaces as well. The Classic Period is also the time when the Maya erected stelae and made the most public presentations of their hieroglyphic writing system. The Postclassic presence in the Maya lowlands is minimal and we will be fortunate to see Topoxte, which was one of the largest sites, along with Tayasal (modern day Flores). There is a general decline in quality and monumentality of architecture. In the highlands, where there was a thriving Postclassic population, sites were chosen in areas that were naturally defensible. Mesoamerica was an extremely bellicose region from about 850 CE up until the Spanish Conquest of Mexico in 1521.

Intrigued by Mesoamerican culture? Join us in Guatemala  in 2010.

Which ancient civilization do you find most interesting? Share below.