James O’Kon, P.E. has pursued a lifelong passion for Maya archaeology and has combined his unique professional engineering experience with the search for lost Maya technology. He has applied his engineering talents to explore and investigate Maya sites located deep in the dense rainforest. Traveling by dugout canoe, hacking his way through the tangled jungle while fighting off millions of insects and sleeping in tents, his search went on for lost secrets. With the collected field data, he was able to utilize digital tools, along with his creative engineering skills, to verify feats of Maya engineering and virtually reconstruct the mysteries of Maya engineering technologies.
His interest in archaeology began while playing in the Civil War trenches covering the hills near his boyhood home in Atlanta, where rusted military armament and wasted shot was easily found on the battlefield sites. His early reading interests included classic books dealing with the Spanish Conquest and the rediscovery of the Maya civilization which stimulated his interest in archaeology. His student days at Georgia Tech were filled with learning the technology of modern civil engineering. His college experience at Georgia Tech produced a problem-solving engineer with writing and illustration skills. His athletic training at Georgia Tech gave him the strength and stamina to endure arduous jungle expeditions.
After several years of experience as a structural engineer designing aerospace structures like rocket launch towers and vertical assembly buildings, he elected to take a yearlong sabbatical to live in Spain. Visiting ancient European cities was an exciting experience for a young man who grew up in Atlanta—the only American city that was ever completely destroyed by war. Just the sight of a building constructed before 1865 was a thrill. Returning to the USA he resumed his career as an engineer for several years until the Maya ruins called to him and he and his family headed south of the border, in a VW camper, through Mexico and into British Honduras where he explored and lived among ancient Maya cities for a year. This is when he first felt an affinity with the Maya engineers that had constructed these wondrous cities. He had questions about their construction that could not be answered by archaeologists. This began his quest for the truth surrounding the brilliant Maya engineering technologies.
Returning to the United States, he worked in New York City designing landmark structures, like the Roosevelt Island Tramway, aviation projects and aerospace structures. In 1973, he returned to Atlanta to operate a branch office of the firm he worked for in New York. He subsequently bought the firm in 1977 and expanded the practice to include architecture and design in addition to engineering. He led this firm to develop a national reputation for designing award-winning aviation facilities, and his ability to think outside the box enabled him to become a forensic engineer in the investigation of high profile building failures.
His investigation of Maya technologies continued parallel to his creative design projects. He often traveled to the Yucatan to explore remote Maya sites. His breakthrough revelation in Maya engineering projects was the discovery of the ruins of a Maya suspension bridge over the Usumacinta River at the ancient Maya city of Yaxchilan. This is the river that divides Mexico from Guatemala and the discovery and proof of the existence of this Maya bridge is the topic of a History Channel production. Additional investigation revealed other examples of Maya technology that are outstanding examples of engineering achievements that the Maya utilized a thousand years in advance of European technology.
His discoveries in Maya technology have been recognized in National Geographic Magazine and the monthly magazine the American Society of Civil Engineers, Civil Engineering, in addition to other scholarly publications. He has been invited to deliver numerous scientific papers dealing with his discoveries in Maya technology at international scientific and archaeological symposia.
His civil engineering education at Georgia Tech and an advanced degree from New York University gave him an excellent background for his professional career which has been devoted to bringing high-tech science to engineering. He is a registered Professional Engineer in over 15 states and has developed new computer techniques for engineering design and new methodologies for investigating distressed structures. This experience gave him the ability to “reverse engineer” complex distressed buildings and identify the cause of the distress. This same experience has enabled him to discover, dissect, analyze and reconstruct lost Maya technologies.
He brought all these special talents to the research and writing of his book, Corn, Cotton and Chocolate: The Lost Secrets of Maya Technology.