Thursday, November 01, 2007

Space particles to x-ray hidden pyramids

Imagine getting to the bottom -- literally -- of a mystery buried for thousands of years by taking an X-ray of the ground.

Thanks to the revival of a 30-year-old technique, a team of physicists and archaeologists is doing something like that to learn about hidden Mayan temples. But rather than using X-rays, they're exploiting tiny, Earth-penetrating particles created by cosmic rays that stream in from space.

Physicist Roy Schwitters and his colleagues at the University of Texas, Austin, hope to find chambers hidden in underground temples built by the Mayans at a site dating to A.D. 250-900 in Belize. Many of the mounds there remain largely unstudied for fear of disturbing their fragile walls or the relics inside.

The hope is to target future excavations directly to the chambers, where the researchers would be more likely to find the sophisticated vestiges of Mayan life. The vibrant pre-Columbian culture remains veiled in mystery.