National Geographic : 1990 Sep
A Photographic Gift of a Venezuelan Trek By her own admission, Ruth Robertson, who is 85 years old, is "a tough old broad." And, she says, she was like that more than 40 years ago when she led the first success ful overland expedition through the Venezuelan jungle to remote Angel Falls, the world's highest waterfall. She described that expedition, made on foot and via canoe, in the November 1949 GEOGRAPHIC and illustrated it with color as well as black-and-white photographs (above). Robertson, who lives in Brazoria, Texas, is now donating those photographs and thousands of others she took in Venezuela between 1946 and 1958 to the National Library of Venezuela. During those years she did promotional work for the nation's new airline and for oil com panies and also helped launch a daily newspaper. Robertson (shown here in a 1949 photograph) first went to Venezuela after meeting some Venezuelan pilots while working as a home economics reporter for the now-defunct New York Herald Tribune. "It was cold in New York; nobody was picking up the garbage. Besides, I've always been curious about what's on the other side of the mountain," she ERNESTKNEE (BELOW);RUTHROBERTSON says. "I gave two weeks notice, packed my things, and left." She decided to trek to Angel Falls after seeing it from the air, at a time when its height was unknown. "Some day someone was going to go in and measure it, and I decided it might as well be me," she says. The expedition determined its height: 3,212 feet. When the Maya Met Spanish Colonists he Maya are best known for the great monument-building period of their civilization. But some scholars are studying later Maya life and finding that there are many other stories to tell. Elizabeth Graham, David Pender gast, and Grant Jones are learning how the Maya dealt with Spanish coloniza tion. Funded in part by the National Geographic Society and combining a study of Spanish documents with archaeological excavation, they are looking at two Maya towns in Belize. In the 16th century both came under Spanish rule, which lasted until a rebel lion occurred almost a century later. The two towns, Lamanai and Tipu, were about 60 miles apart. Each added Spanish goods to the products they traded, and both were at least nomi nally converted to Christianity. At the same time, both towns clung to some Maya traditions, making tools, weap ons, and even church-related ceramics in pre-Spanish ways, and each openly practiced pre-Columbian religious rit uals after the rebellion. But Tipu and Lamanai differed in some ways. For example, skeletal remains show that Tipu's residents suf fered less from diseases such as anemia than did those of Lamanai. Archaeology and Spanish docu ments provide different perspectives on the same people. "The documents tell us what the Spanish thought about the Maya," says Graham. "The arti facts tell us what the Maya themselves thought was important." Finding a Tiny Lemur Is No Easy Task ernhard Meier, searching in Mada gascar for a lemur some scientists feared was extinct, sat down in the jungle one night in despair. As he rested there, the very creature he was looking for leaped within a few feet of his headlamp, lingered for a moment, then disappeared into the darkness. Meier regrouped and, with the help of guides and a dog, found a group of three hairy-eared dwarf lemurs in the dense rain forest 25 miles southwest of Mananara. Lemurs, unique to Madagascar and a few nearby islands, are in trouble because the expansion of agriculture is destroying their forest habitat (GEOGRAPHIC, August 1988). Meier's rediscovery of Allocebus trichotis rep resented an important opportunity to study a live specimen. He captured BERNHARDMEIER one, photographed it, recorded its measurements, and let it go. Since then other scientists have taken two live pairs to learn even more about these unusual animals. The hairy-eared dwarf lemur, a mouselike creature weighing about three ounces, is one of the smallest known lemurs. It was first described in 1875 by Albert Gunther, who discov ered a skin in a British Museum consignment. Only four other speci mens-one preserved in Malagasy rum-are known to exist. Meier, a zoologist at Germany's Ruhr University who found Allocebus trichotiswhile working on a TV docu mentary, hopes the attention his work has received will help save the Mada gascar rain forest and the remarkable fauna that live there.