We open on pounding drums, flute music, a re-enactment of a sacrifice and Steadicam footage of Mexican pyramids.
This episode does right what it says on the tin.
So, guy machete-ing his way through the Guatemalan rainforest. He’s identified as a chiclero, a guy who harvests sap from the chicle tree to make chewing gum. Actually, that sounds kind of badass. Could we have a documentary about these guys? No, we’re just told that ‘often’ they’re the people who found Mayan ruins in the jungle.
Lovely footage of the Mayan pyramids, which Nimoy call ‘the most awesome works of antiquity’. There’s some very interesting stuff on the Pyramid of Chalule which, in terms of volume, is the largest building on Earth. It was build by building pyramids on top of earlier pyramids until they had a super pyramid, to which what can one say but ‘holy crap’!
We move onto excavations of an Aztec pyramid in Mexico city. Some shots of a model of Tenochtitlan, nice. And then Nimoy, in a white shirt and bellbottoms standing… somewhere outdoors? Which I guess is meant to be Mexico. He taps the side of an Earth mound and calls it a pyramid, but let’s be honest, they didn’t ship the guy down to Guatemala for a one minute link. Anyway, he talks about how the Conquistadors thought that the Mesoamerican pyramids were tombs, and wondered who was buried there.
More footage of the pyramids, noting that there’s a temple at the top of each one. He wonders why these temples required such massive bases. We’ll come back to this.
We’re looking in detail at Teotiuacan. He notes that the local pyramids are smaller than the Egyptian pyramids, and states that it’s not possible to know if the builders of Teotiuacan had dealings with the Egyptians. And, of course, this was where it had to be going.
Some stuff in a tunnel under Teotiuacan that leads to a natural cavern, so maybe there are chambers in the pyramid above? Some very pretty footage of the sun rising over the pyramid and suggestion that it was used for timekeeping. And then we’re into the end of Teotiuacan. The narration proclaims that ‘no other great city left so few traces of its demise’ while the camera is pointed at a bloody big pyramid – which is a pretty massive trace of a city’s demise, if you ask me. After that, the narration builds up how little we know about the city. Which is probably better than its usual job of trying to impose strange solutions on mysteries.
Now we get to the pure speculation. Nimoy just asks a bunch of questions about what the ancient Mayans were all about, while the camera looks around. Then suddenly wer’e not asking questions about the Aztecs, we’re asking about the Maya. They had observatories, you know. They had a calendar.
This part isn’t terrible, it’s just that they’re flipping from topic to topic very fast. In a serious documentary about Mesoamerican cultures, we’d give a little more space to examine each issue. Anyway, it concludes with the question that if the Mayans were so into death, then why no tombs?
Anyway, this one archaeologist did find some bodies under a pyramid? Okay, looking it up… Yep! He did indeed find the tomb of the Mayan ruler Pakal. We go into this in quite a lot of detail, and it’s probably the most interesting part of the episode. My understanding is that Mesoamerican pyramids were not generally used as resting places. The interview with the archaeologist, Dr Ruz, is fascinating.
Next, stuff about sacrifice, which is sweet. We talk to Dr Ruz again. He talks about how sacrifices took place at the top of pyramids. Nimoy tells us about the Aztec ‘skull rack’ which is exactly what it sounds like.
After the talk about the sacrifice, we wonder how such an advanced people could be so into bloodshed, which is… yeah, look… Anyway, we have a quick chat about modern Mayan people, then Nimoy’s narration really starts building up just how awe-inspiring Mayan cities must have looked when they were inhabited, and Dr Ruz discusses how the Mayan ruling class deliberately used the pyramids to provoke awe and obedience in their people.
More footage of pyramids… Okay, I may have been wrong earlier when I thought it was going to be about the Mexican/Egyptian pyramid ‘connection’. We just go straight into the collapse of the Mayan empire. The narration is beautiful and the footage is nice. I really have no complaints here.
In fact, other than the skipping between topics, the brief talk of Egypt and a bit of patronage, it’s not bad. It’s not a great documentary about Mesoamerican pyramids, but it’s not a bad one for it’s era and running time.
Nimoy: Pyramids were stairways to heaven – the ultimate in spiritual technology.
Travelogue footage: 9/10, Music: 7/10, Nimoyness: 8/10, Skulls: 10/10, Silliness: 2/10. Overall: 36/50. Credit