Science News Digest

This is Sarah Long. And this is Bob Doughty with SCIENCE IN THE NEWS, a VOA Special English program about recent developments in science. Today, we tell about the discovery of an ancient Inca city in Peru. We also tell about the discovery of an ancient Maya wall painting in Guatemala. And we tell about the intelligence of birds.

Explorers working in Peru have found extensive ruins of an ancient city built by the Inca people. The explorers say it is about thirty-five kilometers southwest of the famous ancient Inca city of Machu Picchu. The newly discovered city is almost four-thousand meters up the side of a mountain named Cerro Victoria.

Peter Frost is a British explorer who lives in Cuzco, Peru. He has been studying archeology of the Inca for thirty years. Mr. Frost led the group that found the ancient city. He says it is complete with roads, burial places, and more than one-hundred buildings.

Mr. Frost says some of the buildings were used to store food. He says his team also found specially built farming areas that the Incas cut into the side of the mountains.

The scientists also found stone instruments and some human remains. The city covers an area of about six square kilometers.

Mr. Frost says the new discovery may contain a record of the Inca civilization from its beginning to its end. However, it is not clear exactly when the city was built.

The Inca once ruled large areas of South America from Colombia to Chile. But invading Spanish explorers defeated them.

The researchers reported finding pottery from two different periods of time in Inca history. Some of the pots are an early kind that were made when the Inca first became powerful. This would have been about the year Twelve-Hundred. Other pieces of pottery are thought to be from the time of the last Inca rebellion against Spanish rule, in about Fifteen-Thirty.

Researchers say the ancient city may have been used by the Inca to hide from the Spanish explorers. They say the city may have been used until the Inca finally surrendered to the Spanish about forty years later.

The scientists say local farmers have used one or two of the buildings in recent years. However, most of the city has not been touched in more than four-hundred years.

The explorers first saw the city in the far distance in Nineteen-Ninety-Nine. They traveled there last June. They left the nearest road and walked and climbed for four days before arriving at the city.

Mr. Frost said they knew immediately that they had found something special. He plans to return in June to make maps of the area and to carry out more investigations.

Mr. Frost says the Inca people probably lived in such an area for two reasons. He says there is a silver mine not far from the city. And he says the area is surrounded by mountains, which were holy to the Inca. Mr. Frost says they may have held religious ceremonies and prayed to the mountains. He also says the Inca were very interested in the stars and may have used the mountains to observe the sun and stars.

The National Geographic Society announced the discovery of the city. The Society helped pay the cost of exploring this area of Peru.

Archeologists have made another important discovery. This one is in the rain forest of northeastern Guatemala. They discovered what experts think may be the oldest and most complete Maya wall art ever found. The wall painting is believed to be about one-thousand-nine-hundred years old. It is said to be in better condition than other Maya art from that period.

The National Geographic Society announced the discovery. The group provided financial support for the study.

The Maya culture existed for hundreds of years in what is now Guatemala, Belize, El Salvador and parts of Honduras and Mexico. The Maya established many great cities. They built huge three-sided structures called pyramids. And they studied the planets and stars. The Maya culture ended more than one-thousand years ago. No one is sure why.

William Saturno, an archeologist at the University of New Hampshire, led the team that discovered the wall art. He also works for the Peabody Museum of Harvard University in Massachusetts.

Mr. Saturno traveled to Guatemala last year to explore Maya ruins. He says he found the wall painting by accident. The archeologist arrived at the ruins of a Maya ceremonial area called San Bartolo after a three-day trip. To escape from the heat, he went into a dark, underground walkway near a large pyramid. He believes that people who stole objects from the pyramid dug the walkway.

Mr. Saturno used a flashlight to find his way as he entered the darkened area. The light helped him to see a painting on the wall of the passageway. He says the painting is about two meters long and is in very good condition.

Mr. Saturno says he knew immediately that he had found something important. He says it has been more than fifty years since anyone found such a large Maya painting.

Only part of the wall art can be seen. But experts believe the painting extends at least eighteen meters around the top of the whole room. The painting was protected because it was covered with earth and then the room was closed.

The picture is painted in black, red and yellow. There are at least nine images. All the human images stand or are on their knees above a complex design. The Maya god of corn is in the center of the painting.Most of the room is still filled with dirt and stones. Mr. Saturno says he plans to return to San Bartolo next month. He and his team will protect the Maya artwork and carry out more work in the area.

American scientists have found that some birds are more intelligent than experts had believed. The scientists say birds have abilities that involve communication and different kinds of memory. In some unusual cases, their abilities seem better than those of humans.

The findings were presented at the yearly meeting of the American Association for the Advancement of Science in Boston, Massachusetts.Irene Pepperberg presented her research about a Grey parrot named Griffin. He lives in her laboratory at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology in Cambridge.

Mizz Pepperberg says Griffin can arrange objects in order of size. She says the talking bird also can combine words in the right order. For example, he will combine words when asking for a piece of food.

The researcher says experts had thought that only humans and other mammals with large brains have the ability to combine objects and words. She believes that bird brains have the ability to understand that complex tasks must be done in the correct order.

Some birds have other memory skills. For example, they collect and store thousands of seeds in autumn, and find them later in winter.

Alan Kamil (CAMEL) and Alan Bond of the University of Nebraska are studying the memories of birds called jays and nutcrackers. Their experiments suggest that these birds use natural objects to find the seeds they have stored. The researchers say the birds use at least three objects, such as rocks or trees, to find the stored seeds.

Mr. Kamil also was able to train a jay to choose one object instead of another. The bird used this skill to receive a prize, such as food. Scientists also say some birds can learn as many as two-thousand different songs. They say songs may have developed as a way for birds to communicate with other birds.

Verner Bingman of Bowling Green State University in Ohio also presented research at the science meeting in Boston. Mr. Bingman believes that birds must have a special guidance system in their brain. He says that understanding how a bird's brain operates may help us better understand how a human brain processes information.

This SCIENCE IN THE NEWS program was written by Paul Thompson and George Grow. It was produced by Cynthia Kirk. This is Sarah Long. And this is Bob Doughty. Join us again next week for more news about science in Special English on the Voice of America.

Voice of America Special English

Source: SCIENCE IN THE NEWS - April 16, 2002: Digest
TEXT = http://www.voanews.com/specialenglish/archive/2002-04/a-2002-04-15-1-1.cfm?renderforprint=1