First human remains found in El Salvador’s ‘Mayan Pompeii’

US archaeologists work on remains found at the Joya de Ceren archaeological site in the town of Opico, 35 km west of San Salvador, on July 1, 2011. (File/ AFP)
Updated 23 November 2018
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First human remains found in El Salvador’s ‘Mayan Pompeii’

SAN SALVADOR: Human remains have been discovered for the first time in El Salvador’s Joya de Ceren, a city buried by a volcanic eruption more than 1,400 years ago and sometimes dubbed the “Mayan Pompeii,” the ministry of culture said Thursday.
A skeleton, which was in poor condition, was discovered at the beginning of November, buried with an obsidian knife at the UNESCO World Heritage archaeological site located about 20 miles north of the capital San Salvador.
The person “probably lived in the city but was not killed by the eruption” of the Loma Caldera volcano, archaeologist Michelle Toledo said.
Toledo added that researchers believed the remains date to the Late Classic period of Mesoamerica because of the presence of fine white tephra, known as “Tierra Blanca Joven” (young white earth) resulting from the volcanic eruption around 535 AD.
The cataclysmic eruption of the Loma Caldera volcano destroyed numerous Mayan sites and was responsible for the formation of Lake Ilopango, with an area of 27.8 square miles.
The remains are the first to be discovered in more than 40 years of excavations.
Like Pompeii and Herculaneum in Italy, the remains of Joya de Ceren were discovered in exceptional condition, providing a rare insight into the Mayan way of life including rituals, agriculture, trade, governance and eating habits.


Back to the future: cassettes launch comeback tour

Updated 24 March 2019
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Back to the future: cassettes launch comeback tour

  • The niche revival has faced a global shortage of music-quality magnetic tape needed for production
  • ‘It died in 2000, as far as conventional wisdom was concerned, and it has made a strong comeback since’

NEW YORK: The humble cassette — that tiny little plastic rectangle containing the homemade mixtapes of yesteryear — is back, joining vinyl as a darling of audiophiles who miss side A and side B.
But as top musicians including Ariana Grande and Justin Bieber release their music on tape and demand continues to climb, the niche revival has faced a global shortage of music-quality magnetic tape needed for production.
Now, two facilities — one in the American Midwest and the other in western France — have stepped in to meet the need.
“It’s a good place to be — there’s plenty of business for both of us,” said Steve Stepp, who founded the National Audio Company in Springfield, Missouri with his father 50 years ago.
He said that around 2000 the “imperial hegemony of the CD” cut his business, which stayed alive as a major manufacturer of books on tape that remained popular.
But despite the astronomical rise of streaming, Stepp said rock bands like Pearl Jam and The Smashing Pumpkins began seeking to manufacture anniversary tapes in the mid-2000s, launching a cassette comeback tour.
“That convinced major record labels that there was still life in the cassette as a music form,” he said.
Several years ago, National Audio bought 300,000 reels of tape from a South Korean company that gave up music-grade tape production.
As that stockpile began to shrink, his facility in November 2016 was faced with a choice: either make reels, or fold.
His business invested several million dollars buying up old equipment from defunct production facilities, and last year National Audio manufactured 18 million audio cassettes, Stepp said, selling to 3,500 record labels globally.
“I think it’s got a bright future,” Stepp said of the cassette market. “It died in 2000, as far as conventional wisdom was concerned, and it has made a strong comeback since.”
“Reports of its death were greatly exaggerated.”
Since November, Mulann — a small French company near Mont Saint Michel — has also rebooted production, the country’s first manufacturing of music-grade tape in two decades.
Already selling magnetic tape for metro tickets or military recording studios, the Mulann group acquired a plant to produce analog audio tapes under the trademark Recording The Masters.
For Jean-Luc Renou, Mulann’s CEO, there’s still a place for analog sound in today’s ephemeral music world.
“Take the example of heating: you have radiators at home. It’s comfortable, it’s digital — but next to you, you can make a good fire.”
“Pleasure” is the goal, he said: “That’s the cassette or vinyl.”
The company sells tapes for €3.49 each, producing them by the thousands each month and exporting 95 percent worldwide, according to commercial director Theo Gardin.
The 27-year-old admits he didn’t know in his youth the joys — and pains — of the Walkman personal tape player, or the delicate strip of tape that tangles up and must be rewound with, say, a pen. Or a finger.
According to Stepp, it’s precisely 20-somethings like Gardin fast-forwarding demand, as young people seek something tangible in the Internet age.
Urban Outfitters — an American clothing brand catering to hipster types that also sells electronics — on its site spells out the mixtape process.
“If you’ve never spent 3-5 hours sitting by the radio, waiting for that one Hanson song to come on so you could add it to your mixtape, get pumped: you can now relive that experience,” it says.
“Let those ‘90s vibes wash over you, man.”
Cassette tape album sales in the US grew by 23 percent in 2018, according to tracker Nielsen Music, jumping from 178,000 copies the year prior to 219,000.
It’s nothing compared to 1994 sales of 246 million cassette albums, but significant considering the format was all but dead by the mid-2000s.
“As an old fogey I don’t want to imagine a world with no analog,” Stepp said. “The world around is analog; our ears are analog.”
“Digital recordings are very clean and sharp but there are no harmonics. These are digital pictures of audio recordings, if you will.”
Bobby May, a 29-year-old buyer at Burger Records in southern California, said that while “physical media in itself is a totally antiquated idea,” cassette sound has what he called a uniqueness.
“The consumer public is fickle and trends always change, but for the foreseeable future, I know tons of people will stay pretty crazy for records and vinyl.”
Last year vinyl saw revenues hit their highest level since 1988, totaling $419 million — an eight percent jump from the previous year.
Though vinyl’s sound quality is unquestionably superior to cassettes, May said tapes’ low cost makes them ideal for collectors.
“I still like stuff pilin’ up around me,” May laughed, adding that he probably has 500 tapes from Burger.
In addition to the homemade and indie cassettes, he cherishes several mainstream albums as well.
“I have a prized ‘Baby One More Time’ cassette,” he said, referring to pop princess Britney Spears’ debut album. “It looks great on my shelf.”