≡ Menu

Of the Termites’ Today and the Mayans’ Yesterdays

And fear not lest Existence closing your
Account and mine, should know the like no more;
The Eternal Saki from that Bowl has poured
Millions of Bubbles like us, and will pour.

The Rubaiyat Of Omar Khayyam Poem by Omar Khayyam

Meanwhile, in Brazil, termite life goes on much as it has for nearly all of recorded history:

Scientists Find 3,820-Year-Old Termite Mounds in Brazil   The vast array of termite mounds covers an estimated 230,000 km2 (roughly the size of Great Britain) of seasonally dry tropical forest in a relatively undisturbed region of northeastern Brazil.

It includes approximately 200 million cone-shaped soil mounds that are 2.5 m tall and approximately 9 m in diameter. These mounds are not nests, but rather they are generated by the excavation of vast inter-connecting tunnel networks.

“These mounds were formed by a single termite species — known as Syntermes dirus — that excavated a massive network of tunnels to allow them to access dead leaves to eat safely and directly from the forest floor,” said study lead author Professor Stephen Martin, a researcher at the University of Salford, UK.

“The amount of soil excavated is over 10 km3, equivalent to 4,000 great pyramids of Giza.”

“This is apparently the world’s most extensive bioengineering effort by a single insect species,” added co-author Dr. Roy Funch, from the Universidade Estadual de Feira de Santana, Brazil.

“Perhaps most exciting of all — the mounds are extremely old — up to 4,000 years, similar to the ages of the pyramids.”

A vast 4,000-year-old spatial pattern of termite mounds:  

Here, we describe a vast array of soil mounds constructed by termites (Syntermes dirus) that has persisted for up to 4000 years and covers an estimated 230,000 km2 of seasonally dry tropical forest in a relatively undisturbed and climatically stable region of Northeast Brazil. The mounds are not nests, but rather they are generated by the excavation of vast inter-connecting tunnel networks, resulting in approximately 10 km3 of soil being deposited in 200 million conical mounds that are 2.5 m tall and approximately 9 m in diameter. S. dirus termites are still present in the soil surrounding the mounds and we found that intra-specific aggression occurred at a scale much larger than an individual mound.

Elsewhere in Central and South America men’s civilizations seem to last somewhat less than those of the termites before melting back into the landscape.

Guatemala’s Maya Society Featured Huge ‘Megalopolis,’ LiDAR Data Show   “Most people had been comfortable with population estimates of around 5 million,” said Estrada-Belli, who directs a multi-disciplinary archaeological project at Holmul, Guatemala. “With this new data it’s no longer unreasonable to think that there were 10 to 15 million people there—including many living in low-lying, swampy areas that many of us had thought uninhabitable.”

Virtually all the Mayan cities were connected by causeways wide enough to suggest that they were heavily trafficked and used for trade and other forms of regional interaction. These highways were elevated to allow easy passage even during rainy seasons. In a part of the world where there is usually too much or too little precipitation, the flow of water was meticulously planned and controlled via canals, dikes, and reservoirs.

Among the most surprising findings was the ubiquity of defensive walls, ramparts, terraces, and fortresses. “Warfare wasn’t only happening toward the end of the civilization,” said Garrison. “It was large-scale and systematic, and it endured over many years.”

The results suggest that Central America supported an advanced civilization that was, at its peak some 1,200 years ago, more comparable to sophisticated cultures such as ancient Greece or China than to the scattered and sparsely populated city states that ground-based research had long suggested.

In addition to hundreds of previously unknown structures, the LiDAR images show raised highways connecting urban centers and quarries. Complex irrigation and terracing systems supported intensive agriculture capable of feeding masses of workers who dramatically reshaped the landscape.

The ancient Maya never used the wheel or beasts of burden, yet “this was a civilization that was literally moving mountains,” said Marcello Canuto, a Tulane University archaeologist and National Geographic Explorer who participated in the project.


  • Alike for those who for To-day prepare,
    And those that after some To-morrow stare,
    A Muezzin from the Tower of Darkness cries
    “Fools! your Reward is neither Here nor There”.


  • Why, all the Saints and Sages who discuss’d
    Of the Two Worlds so wisely — they are thrust
    Like foolish Prophets forth; their Words to Scorn
    Are scatter’d, and their Mouths are stopt with Dust.


  • Myself when young did eagerly frequent
    Doctor and Saint, and heard great argument
    About it and about: but evermore
    Came out by the same door where in I went.


  • With them the seed of Wisdom did I sow,
    And with mine own hand wrought to make it grow;
    And this was all the Harvest that I reap’d —
    “I came like Water, and like Wind I go”.

Comments on this entry are closed.

  • Walter Sobchak March 14, 2019, 8:44 PM

    We Need XXIX

    Into this Universe, and why not knowing,
    Nor whence, like Water willy-nilly flowing:
    And out of it, as Wind along the Waste,
    I know not whither, willy-nilly blowing.

    Although I think the first line would be better served by using world instead of universe in the first line. It is shorter and adds the w-ness of the alliteration.

  • jwm March 15, 2019, 11:06 AM

    And we still have no idea how these megalithic structures were built. I wonder that the Spaniards did not find, somewhere, evidence of the technology needed to work, and transport stone on that scale. I have a hard time wrapping my mind around the notion that a people capable of that technology would worship mushroom eating psychopaths who practiced human sacrifice. Can they really be the same people? Or were they the remnant of a civilization gone insane?


  • Marica March 15, 2019, 3:05 PM

    And that inverted bowl we call The Sky,
    Whereunder crawling coop’t we live and die,
    Lift not thy hands to It for help– for It
    Rolls impotently on as Thou or I.

    [52 in the first edition]

  • Howard Nelson March 16, 2019, 11:03 AM

    And we poor fools, Follywood’s false news
    Prance and dance to the Puppeteer’s twitches
    While the raucous audience cheers and leers
    Or obscenely gestures, or simply bitches.