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玛雅文明未解之谜:尤卡坦半岛神秘圆环的秘密

更新时间:2019/2/13 17:21:17 来源:纽约时报中文网 作者:佚名

The buried secrets of the deadliest location on Earth
玛雅文明未解之谜:尤卡坦半岛神秘圆环的秘密

In the mid-1980s, as a group of American archaeologists pored over satellite images showing Mexico’s Yucatan Peninsula, they did not know what to make of one unexpected pattern: a near-perfect ring, about 200km across.

上世纪80年代中期,美国考古学家们在仔细研究墨西哥尤卡坦半岛的卫星图像时,发现了一个令他们相当意外的图案——一个直径约200公里、形状近乎完美的大圆环。

Cenotes, the blue water sinkholes that are a staple of Yucatan tourist brochures, dot this arid landscape, opening up seemingly at random as you trek across the vast flatlands of the Yucatan, a dogleg of low, dry forest on Mexico’s eastern edge. But seen from space, they cluster together to form a pattern: an arc, articulating nearly half a circle, as if a drawing compass had been stuck into the map on the shores of the Gulf of Mexico and spun around until running out of land.

天然水井是墨西哥尤卡坦半岛旅游的主要胜地,这些蓝色的地表坑洞散布在这片干旱的土地上。当你徒步穿越尤卡坦半岛广袤的平原时,随处可见这些水坑。尤卡坦半岛好似一个弯曲的狗腿,位于墨西哥东部边缘,岛上是一些低矮干燥的森林。但是从空中俯瞰,这些天然水坑串聚一起竟形成了一个图案——一个半圆弧线。仿佛有人用圆规在墨西哥海湾画圆,但画了一半,弧线就越过陆地没入了海水中。

The archaeologists had discovered the pattern, which encircles the Yucatecan capital, Merida, and port towns of Sisal and Progreso, while trying to understand what had become of the Mayan civilisation that had once ruled over the peninsula. The indigenous Maya had depended on the cenotes for drinking water, but the uncanny circular arrangement of the holes perplexed the researchers as they presented their findings to fellow satellite specialists at a scientific conference Selper in Acapulco, Mexico, in 1988.

天然井是当地玛雅人的饮用水来源。考古学家在探索曾经统治半岛的玛雅文明最后的结局时,发现这些天然水坑环绕尤卡坦半岛的首府梅里达和港口城市西撒尔和普拉格罗索而分布形成一个园形。1988年,在墨西哥阿卡普尔科举行的一次科学会议上,研究人员向其他卫星专家展示了他们的发现,大家都对天然水坑这神秘分布感到困惑不解。

For one scientist in the audience, Adriana Ocampo, then a young planetary geologist at Nasa, the circular formation sounded a klaxon she had been trained to anticipate.

观众席上一位名叫奥坎波(Adriana Ocampo)的科学家是当时美国宇航局的一名年轻的行星地质学家。这种圆环图案顿时惊醒了她所受的科学训练的直觉。

Ocampo, now 63, explains that she saw not just a ring, but a bullseye.

现年63岁的奥坎波解释说,她看到的不仅是一枚圆环,还像一个靶心。

“As soon as I saw the slides that was my ‘Aha!’ moment. I thought ‘This is something amazing’. ‘This could be it’,” said Ocampo, now director of Nasa’s Lucy programme, which will send a spacecraft into Jupiter’s orbit in 2021. “I was really excited inside but I kept cool because obviously you don’t know until you have more evidence.”

奥坎波说,“我在看到幻灯片的一瞬间恍然大悟。觉得这太神奇了,自己的想法肯定错不了。我欣喜若狂,但必须保持冷静,因为当时没有足够的证据证明我的观点。”奥坎波现在是美国国家航空和宇宙航行局“露茜项目”的负责人,该项目计划于2021年向木星轨道发射一艘宇宙飞船。

Approaching the scientists, heart pounding, Ocampo asked if they had considered an asteroid impact – one giant and violent enough to have scarred the planet in ways still being revealed 66 million years on.

奥坎波走到这些科学家们面前,心怦怦直跳,问他们是否考虑过小行星撞击地球这个可能性。这次撞击发生在6600万年前,留下了的疤痕至今仍清晰可见。

“They didn’t even know what I was talking about!” she laughed, three decades later.

30年后,她笑着说:“他们当时都不知道我在说什么!”

Ocampo's chance encounter was the beginning of a scientific correspondence that would establish the foundations for what most scientists believe today: that this ring corresponds to the edge of the crater caused by an asteroid 12km wide, which struck the Yucatan and exploded with unimaginable force that turned rock to liquid.

奥坎波的偶然发现是科学界相互就此展开讨论的开始,为最后达成一致结论奠定了基础。如今,大多数科学家都认为这个圆环就是一个直径12公里的小行星撞击地球时形成的陨石坑。这颗小行星坠落在尤卡坦半岛,难以想象的剧烈爆炸使岩石都变成了液体。

Since the early ‘90s, teams of scientists from the Americas, Europe and Asia have worked to fill in the remaining blanks. They now believe the impact instantly created a crater 30km deep, causing the Earth to act like a pond after a pebble is dropped, rebounding up in the centre to create a mountain – just for a moment – reaching twice the height of Mt Everest, before crashing down. In the years that followed the cataclysmic impact, the world would have changed beyond recognition, with the plume of ash blocking the sky and creating perpetual night-time for more than a year, plunging temperatures below freezing, and killing off about 75% of all life on Earth – including almost all the dinosaurs.

自上世纪90年代初以来,来自美洲、欧洲和亚洲的科学家团队一直在努力填补剩下的空白。他们现在相信撞击瞬间形成了一个30公里深的火山口。如果将地球比作一个池塘,撞击地球的小行星就是一颗被抛入池塘中的石子。中心区的反弹在瞬间形成了一座高山,是珠穆朗玛峰的两倍高,但随后就崩塌了。地球在灾难发生后的几年内发生了天翻地覆的变化——遮天蔽日的灰烬导致长达一年多的黑夜,气温降至冰点,地球上约75%的生命都因此丧生,恐龙几乎全部灭绝。

Today, that centre point, the place where that imaginary compass stuck and the mountain once rose, is a buried a kilometre below a tiny town called Chicxulub Puerto.

如今,撞击的中心点,即想象中的圆规固定之处,也就是6600万年前一度隆起形成山峰的地方,被埋在希克苏鲁伯港地下一公里的地方。

When I visited that settlement of a few thousand people, low-rise houses painted yellow, white, orange and ochre surrounded a type of modest town square that makes up the area’s many photogenic but unremarkable Yucatecan villages. The town has had so little publicity that the few dinosaur-lovers who do try to make their way in pilgrimage along the Yucatan's long, twisty roads between prickly scrubland forest often end up lost in another nearby town called Chicxulub Pueblo, half an hour’s drive inland.

希克苏鲁伯港这个小镇只有几千人口,低矮的楼房被漆成黄色、白色、橙色和赭色,环绕着一个朴素的城镇广场。这种广场在该地区许多上镜但不起眼的尤卡坦村庄里都能看到。这座小镇没什么人知道,只有寥寥可數的一些恐龙爱好者来这里“朝圣”。他们会沿着崎岖多刺的灌木丛内蜿蜒的小路往前走,但常常会在临近的小镇奇克苏鲁伯普韦布洛的地方迷路。那里距离内陆有半小时车程。

Even if they reach the correct town, located 7km east along white-sand coastline from the popular holiday resort of Progreso, there are few indications that this was the scene of one of the most consequential and disastrous acts of the last 100 million years of Earth's history. Stroll around the main square and you'll catch sight of paintings of dinosaurs by local children. There is a playground nearby where climbing frames and slides are topped with hard plastic sauropods in primary colours. The only monument, in front of the church on the main square, takes the form of a cartoonish bone, made from concrete, laid in front of an altar like plinth depicting dinosaur species.

即使他们最终走到了正确的小镇希克苏鲁伯港(这里从著名的普拉格罗索Progreso度假胜地出发沿着白沙滩海岸线以东要走7公里),也几乎找不到任何指示说,这是地球上过去1亿年间最重大、最具灾难性事件之一的现场。漫步在主广场,你会看到当地孩子画的恐龙。附近儿童游乐场的攀爬架和滑梯上放置着原色的硬塑料蜥脚类动物。唯一的纪念碑在主广场的教堂前,是用混凝土制成的卡通骨头造型的石碑,放置在一个像祭坛的基座上,基座上绘有多种恐龙。

Until Ocampo's findings were published in 1991, this area of the Yucatan had been the subject of little international interest. Today, there is a museum, opened in September 2018 between Chicxulub Puerto and the Yucatan capital Merida, 45km to the south). The Museum of Science of the Chicxulub Crater, a joint project by the Mexican Government and the country's biggest university, National Autonomous University of Mexico (UNAM), aims to take people back to the moment, 66 million years ago, when the 12km asteroid changed world history, ending the reign of the giant beasts that had lasted millions of years. And by boosting local awareness of the cataclysmic events that took place here, the museum hopes to begin the process of bringing tourists to explore the Yucatan’s prehistoric past, which overlaps with popular Mayan historical destinations like Chichen Itza and the party city of Cancun.

在奥坎波的发现于1991年发表之前,国际社会对尤卡坦半岛的这一地区毫无兴趣。如今,在希克苏鲁伯港和南下45公里的尤卡坦半岛首府梅里达之间,于2018年9月建起了一座博物馆——希克苏鲁伯陨石坑科学博物馆。这是墨西哥政府和该国最大的大学墨西哥国立自治大学合作的项目,旨在让人们回到6600万年前那一瞬间——一颗直径12公里的小行星改变了世界历史,结束了巨大野兽持续了千百万年的统治。博物馆希望,通过加深当地人民对发生在这里的远古地质年代大灾难的认识,能吸引游客来探索尤卡坦半岛的史前历史。尤卡坦半岛还有著名的玛雅历史景点如奇琴伊察(Chichen Itza)和狂欢派对城市坎昆(Cancun)。

Chicxulub Puerto and its surrounds deserve to be better known worldwide, says Ocampo, who was born in Colombia but moved as a child to Argentina, arriving in the US at age 15. The asteroid, although bringing unimaginable violence to this area, benefitted one species above all others: humans, who, millions of years later, would evolve into the ecological gap created by the destruction of the world's biggest predators.

奥坎波表示,希克苏鲁伯陨石坑及其周边地区应受到全世界更多关注。奥坎波出生在哥伦比亚,小时候移居阿根廷,15岁时来到美国。这颗小行星虽然给这一地区带来了难以想象的灾难,但却使另一个物种获益良多——千百万年后,当世界上最大的食肉动物灭绝后,人类开始进入生物的演化史。

Without that impact, humanity might well have never existed.

没有这次灾难,人类很可能根本就不存在。

“It gave us a leg up to be able to compete, to be able to flourish, as we eventually did,” she said.

她说, “人类因此具有优势,能够竞争、蓬勃发展,我们最后也确实做到了。”

Ocampo's discovery came at the end of a decade-long quest for the location of the asteroid impact. The key to her ‘Aha! moment’ had been an intuition she’d picked up after working with a legendary figure in space science, Eugene Shoemaker. Shoemaker – the pioneering American geologist who is credited as one of the founders of the field of planetary science and remains, 21 years after his death, the only person whose ashes are buried on the Moon – had instructed her that near perfect circles were unlikely to have been caused by other terrestrial forces, and could provide clues to Earth’s geological development.

导致恐龙绝种的小行星撞击究竟在地球何处,科学家为此曾探索长达10年,奥坎波的发现终於一锤定音。那个恍然大悟的瞬间是她与太空科学领域的传奇人物休梅克(Eugene Shoemaker)合作后获得的直觉。休梅克是美国地质学家先驱,被认为是行星科学领域的奠基者之一。在他逝世后的第21年,他的骨灰被埋在了月球上,全世界仅此一人。在休梅克的指导下,奥坎波知道这种近乎完美的圆圈不太可能是来自地球本身的任何力量造成的,这个圆圈可能为地球地质变化提供研究线索。

The idea that a giant asteroid had wiped out the dinosaurs was proposed by Californian father-son duo Luis and Walter Alvarez in the early 1980s. “But, then, it was extremely controversial,” Ocampo said. What she did was to place one of the final connecting jigsaw pieces that began linking scattered ideas between scientists who were working independently with fragments of information, often on overlapping investigations.

上世纪80年代初,加利福尼亚的一对父子路易斯(Louis)和阿尔瓦雷斯(Alvarez)提出了一种被称为阿尔瓦雷斯小行星撞击理论的观点,认为是巨大的小行星撞击地球造成恐龙灭绝。奥坎波说:“但那个时候,这个观点引起了极大的争议。”从这对父子首次提出这个观点,到最后成为科学界共识,整个过程犹如集体拼图,各自独立研究的科学家把自己零散的想法提出来,拼在一起,经常会有重叠,而奥堪波所做的,就是放上最后一张拼板,完成了拼图任务。

For example, as early as 1978, geophysicist Glen Penfield, working alongside Antonio Camargo-Zanoguera for Mexico’s national oil company Pemex, had flown out over the Caribbean waters that lap the shore at Chicxulub Puerto. Using a magnetometer, he scanned the waters looking for signs of oil, instead finding the underwater half of the huge crater. But that evidence belonged to Pemex, so was not made available to the scientific community.

例如,早在1978年,地球物理学家彭菲尔德(Glen Penfield)就与墨西哥国家石油公司的扎诺古拉(Antonio Camargo-Zanoguera)合作,飞越了包括希克苏鲁伯港(Chicxulub Puerto)在内的加勒比海水域。他用磁力仪扫描海面,寻找石油的迹象,结果却发现了这个巨大陨石坑另一半的水下部分。但科学界无法拿到这些证据,因为它们属于墨西哥国家石油公司。

In fact, the first person to connect the Yucatan ring with the Alvarez asteroid theory was a Texan journalist named Carlos Byars who wrote an article for the Houston Chronicle in 1981 asking if the two were linked. Byars later shared his theory with a grad student named Alan Hildebrand, who then approached Penfield after examining a rock layer in Haiti, and it was the two of them who determined that the crater wasn’t a volcano, but an asteroid impact. “[Byars] gets the credit for being the first to put the pieces together – a newspaperman!” Ocampo said. “It’s an amazing story when you put all the pieces together.”

事实上,第一个将尤卡坦环与阿尔瓦雷斯小行星撞击理论联系起来的人是一位名叫拜尔斯(Carlos Byars)的德克萨斯记者。他在1981年为《休斯顿纪事报》(Houston Chronicle)写了一篇文章,讨论尤卡坦环和阿尔瓦雷斯理论之间是否有联系。拜尔斯后来和一个叫希尔德布兰德(Alan Hildebrand)的研究生分享了他的理论,这个研究生在检查了海地的一层岩石之后找到了彭菲尔德。他们两人共同确定了这个巨大圆坑不是火山口,而是小行星撞击产生的陨石坑。奥坎波说,“比尔斯是第一个把碎片拼在一起的人。竟然是一个新闻记者第一个发现! 当你把所有的碎片拼在一起时,你会发现一个惊人的故事。”

But the story is not simply one of history, it could also give us insight into life beyond Earth. Lessons learned in the asteroid crater have informed research by Nasa’s Curiosity rover, which touched down on Mars in 2012 and has spent the last six years investigating the Martian environment and geology.

但这个故事不仅仅是一个历史故事,它还能让我们了解地球以外的生命。从这个陨石坑所获得的知识也帮助了美国宇航局的“好奇号”探测器的研究。好奇号于2012年登陆火星,在过去6年里一直在研究火星的环境和地质。

Debris discovered from asteroid impacts on Mars compared with ejecta from the Chicxulub Crater shows similarities that indicate that Mars must once have had much thicker an atmosphere than it does now – one closer to the atmosphere that supports life on Earth. “It’s important for us to know what happened in the past to be prepared for the future,” Ocampo said. “It provides a really good insight into what has happened in the geological evolution of Mars.”

将希克苏鲁伯陨石坑的喷射物,与小行星撞击火星时发现的碎片相比较,两者有相似之处,这表明火星的大气层曾经比现在要厚得多,更接近于维系地球生命的地球大气层。奥坎波说:“知道过去发生了什么,就可以为未来做好准备,这很重要。这个陨石坑让我们能更好地了解火星的地质演化。”

But, in the Chicxulub Crater, much of the incredible knowledge remains buried below ground, rarely recognised by visitors or locals despite the opening of the museum and Mexico’s application to have the crater recognised by Unesco. There is precious little for visitors to see as the impact was so long ago. Tourists who do visit one of the few remnants – the stunning cenotes, where you can swim among fish and dangling tree roots – may be unaware that these geological features exist only because rock was forced to the surface from deep underground during the impact. Over thousands of years, dripping water has cut through the limestone at this faultline to carve out the sinkholes.

但是,关于希克苏鲁伯陨石坑,尽管有了博物馆,墨西哥还向联合国教科文组织申请为世界历史遗产,但很多令人难以置信的信息仍然埋藏在地下,游客和当地人所见有限。由于这次撞击的时间太久远,游客们几乎看不到什么珍贵的东西,只能看到为数不多的残余,最令人惊叹的就是天然井。你可以和鱼儿在水井中游泳,可欣赏水中悬空的树根。但是游客们可能不知道,之所以有这种奇幻的地质景象,是因为在小行星撞击时,地底深处的岩石被撞出地表。在这个岩石断层线,千百万年来水滴石穿,最终凿出了这些天坑。

Ocampo has visited the peninsula numerous times since her discoveries there in the late 1980s, but when asked if people are aware of the importance of this place, she responds unhappily.

自从上世纪80年代末奥坎波发现尤卡坦圆环是陨石坑起,她已来过尤卡坦半岛多次。当被问及人们是否意识到了尤卡坦半岛的重要性时,她显得闷闷不乐。

“The short answer is no,” she replied. “We need to do better. We need to educate, we need to make them aware of the extraordinary ground that they are living on.”

她回答说,“简单来说,并没有。我们需要做得更好,需要利用教育让人们意识到他们生活的这片土地多么特别。”

“They [local people and authorities] are trying to raise the knowledge base and it would be wonderful to help,” said Ocampo, who is also a proponent of planetary science education in Latin America. “It is a unique place in our planet. It truly is.”

奥坎波还是拉丁美洲行星科学教育的支持者。她说:“他们(当地人民和政府)正在努力补充基础知识。如果真的有用,那就太好了。这儿是地球上独一无二的地方。”

“It should be preserved as a World Heritage site.”

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