Category Archives: Fun Firearm Friday

Fun Firearm Friday on Beretta Week — 950 BS Jetfire — Is this the original James Bond gun?


Beretta Week firearms from left to right: 84B Cheetah; 21A Bobcat; 950 BS Jetfire

“He then took from under his shirts in another drawer a very flat .25 Beretta automatic with a skeleton grip, extracted the clip and the single round in the barrel and whipped the action to and fro several times, finally pulling the trigger on the empty chamber. He charged the weapon again, loaded it, put up the safety catch and dropped it into the shallow pouch of the shoulder-holster.

Ian Fleming from his novel Casino Royale (Jonathan Cape, 1953) describing the sidearm of his fictional spy, Commander James Bond CMG, RNVR

The Beretta 950 debuted in 1952 — “a very flat .25 Beretta automatic”

Today we’re going to have some fun, combing literature, cinema, and firearms with a focus on the most famous spy in fiction. The sidearm most associated with James Bond is, of course, the 7.65mm (.32 ACP) Walther PPK “… with a delivery like a brick through a plate glass window.” But that sidearm isn’t mentioned in any of the first five Ian Fleming novels. It’s not until the sixth, Dr. No, that 007 is forced to exchange his beloved Beretta .25 for the Walther. From the first Bond film, based upon that sixth novel:

  • M, speaking to James Bond: Take off your jacket.
  • M: Give me your gun.
  • M: Yes, I thought so. This damn Beretta again. I’ve told you about this before.
  • M, turning to the armorer: You tell him. For the last time.
  • Armorer, weighing the Beretta in his open hand: Nice and light… in a lady’s handbag. No stopping power.
  • M: Any comments, 007?
Beretta 950 BS “Jetfire”; hammer cocked and safety engaged (i.e., “locked”)

As entertaining as Ian Fleming was, he certainly didn’t know much about firearms. He proved that repeatedly in the early Bond novels, beginning with the choice of a .25 caliber Beretta. As for the Beretta, Mr. Fleming didn’t even state the model number, which leaves us to speculate. The Beretta 950 was Beretta’s first tip-barrel pistol. It arrived in 1952, one year before the publication of the first Bond novel Casino Royale. It came in two flavors — the very weak .25 ACP/6.35mm (“Jetfire”) and the incredibly anemic .22 Short (“Minx”). Considering the weak cartridges available to the 950, anyone licensed to kill and of sound mind would resort to neither the Minx nor the Jetfire. Fortunately, in that first novel Mr. Fleming also assigned to Bond a .38 Colt Police Positive with a “sawn barrel” and a “long-barreled” .45 Colt Army Special (a.k.a., Colt Official Police) for those times when .25 ACP just wouldn’t cut it (which would pretty much be any time Bond needed a weapon).

As for that Colt Army Special, there’s also a problem with that description as well. The Colt Army Special was never chambered in .45 Colt; it was only available in the much weaker .22 LR, .32-20, .38 S&W (and related .38/200), .38 Special, and .41 Long Colt cartridges.

.25 ACP Beretta 950 BS Jetfire

The impotence of the .25 ACP/6.35mm aside, if one were going to arm a Double-0 with a .25 ACP Beretta, the 950 would seem a logical choice. The tip-barrel would allow Bond to drop a round directly into the chamber rather than inserting a loaded magazine into the grip and racking the slide. And to render the firearm safe, he would merely push forward the barrel release and snatch the ejected cartridge as it gets tossed into the air. That would certainly be an iconic image for a cool spy.

Beretta 950, barrel tipped

But is the 950 the weapon Ian Fleming had in mind when he assigned to 007 a very flat .25 Beretta automatic with a skeleton grip? An intriguing question, but one easily answered with a little knowledge of .25 caliber Berettas. We’ll get to that conclusion in a moment, but first a discussion on the original 950 and 950 B. The 950 was introduced to great fanfare in 1952 and, amazingly, it soldiered on in production until 2003. Impressive!

A Beretta 950 BS chamber waiting for you to just drop in a .25 ACP cartridge

The 950 and 950 B were straight single action only (SAO) pistols. The slide and barrel are carbon steel sitting atop an aluminum alloy frame. There is no manual safety on either the 950 or 950 B, but there is a half-cock position. That means one needs to fully cock (thumb back) the hammer before it can be fired. Not exactly spy friendly, as the act of cocking on the draw increases the time needed to ready the weapon for firing. Strike One on the 950 being Mr. Fleming’s intended choice.

Beretta 950 BS; slide removed

This original setup was changed with the 1968 introduction of the 950 BS variant. The 950 BS is also a SAO pistol, but this variant incorporates a manual safety that allows the weapon to be carried in a cocked-and-locked configuration — hammer cocked, pistol in single-action mode, safety engaged, i.e., “locked.” And, if you’ve been paying attention so far, you’ve already stumbled upon Strike Two. Any ideas? Here’s a hint from the first paragraph of this article: “He charged the weapon again, loaded it, put up the safety catch and dropped it into the shallow pouch of the shoulder-holster.”

Disassembled Beretta 950 BS

So, if Bond is engaging the safety on his .25 Beretta, it’s not the 950 from 1952. Or is it? As we’ve already seen, Mr. Fleming was notoriously unversed in firearms. Remember that .45 Colt Army Special? At any rate, he certainly didn’t have in mind the 950 BS, which does come with a manual safety. The 950 BS didn’t arrive on scene until 16 years after the publication of Casino Royale, and some four years after Mr. Fleming’s death from a heart attack. So, did Mr. Fleming attribute to the 950 a nonexistent manual safety? There’s one more clue, and it comes from the “skeleton grip” of the weapon described.

The last clue. Can you spot it? Hint: Is that a paperclip protruding from the grip?

A “skeleton grip” is when one removes the left and right panel grips from the frame, leaving only the frame “skeleton” available to grasp. With the 950, that means taking off the plastic panels you see in the photos above, leaving this:

Beretta 950 BS; grip panels removed (“skeleton grip”); recoil “spring” engaged in slide notches
Beretta 950 BS; “skeleton grip” with magazine inserted

I made this point before in my review of the Beretta 3032 Tomcat: Notice that there is no recoil spring? Actually, if you look closely at the three photos directly above, there is. In the Tomcat there are two spring loaded plungers inside the frame. The plunger tips insert into notches on the inside of the slide. With the 950 it’s a bit simpler system. Instead of plungers and springs, the slide notches catch on the thick wire you see running outside the magazine well and protruding from the top of the grips. That is your “recoil spring,” if you want to call it that.

950 BS recoil wire (left); 3032 spring-loaded plunger tip (right)

Question: How do you run this gun with a skeleton grip configuration if the recoil system is exposed and subject to interference and binding?
Answer: You don’t. Attempting to do so would make the weapon so unreliable as to render it useless.

950 BS Jetfire (left); 3032 Tomcat “thin slide” (top); 3032 “wide slide” bottom

So, if not the 950 or 950 B, what Beretta did Ian Fleming have in mind? What “flat .25 Beretta automatic” has a traditional recoil spring incorporated into the slide that would allow one to operate it with the grip panels removed? That’s easy. We’re left with the Beretta 418, which went into production in 1936 (1919 if you include the earlier design designations) and continued to run concurrently with 950 production until at least 1958.

Beretta 418 as Bond would have carrried it — Picture from CommandoBond.com

And in this photograph you can see the traditional guide rod/recoil spring setup, since the 418 is not a tip-barrel design:

Beretta 418 disassembled — Picture from CommandoBond.com

I can hear you now asking, but… but… but where’s that “safety catch” Bond engages? In the photo of the assembled 418, that would be the lever on the frame, just above the trigger. That lever also acts as the slide catch, something the tip-barrel Berettas lack completely. Instead, on the tip-barrels, the lever in that location is the release for the pivoting tip-barrel.

Mystery solved! Ian Fleming didn’t use the most recent (at the time) .25 Beretta. He instead went with a design dating back to 1919.

But one mystery remains. The 950 BS presented today was made in Accokeek, Maryland, but what year? These were produced in the U.S. from 1978 until 2003. If you can solve that mystery for me, I would be greatly appreciative.

While you’re pondering that, let me give you the relevant statistics and specifications on this firearm.

Model 950/950 B (1952-1968) Model 950 BS (Italy and Brazil 1968-?; USA 1978-2003):

  • barrel: 2.4″/60mm
  • length: 4.7″/120mm
  • width: 0.91″/23mm
  • height: 3.4″/87mm
  • weight: 9.9oz/260gr
  • caliber: .22 Short (Minx) and .25 ACP/6.35mm (Jetfire)
  • magazine capacity: 6 (.22 Short); 8 (.25 ACP/6.35mm)

I hope you enjoyed Beretta Week, and I trust you found this Fun Firearm Friday to be particularly entertaining. Next week I return to travel, taking on our recent late April-early July 71-day excursion to Europe and back. Along the way I’ll show you the Canary Islands (again); rarely visited cruise ports in Spain and France; a charming town in Germany, and another in the Netherlands. After that it’s three back-to-back cruises to Iceland, Ireland, the U.K. (including Wales, Scotland, and Northern Ireland); and a journey to seven destinations in Norway, including deep into the Arctic Circle as far north as 71º 10′ 21″ North Latitude. That series will conclude with the four days we spent in Dublin before heading back to the U.S. Until then, I’ll leave you with this Beretta tip-barrel family portrait:

Слава Україні! (Slava Ukraini!)

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Fun Firearm Friday — A Revolver Week Fraud!


WARNING:
Severe, exceedingly obscure, fascinatingly trivial, yet amazingly fun history lesson follows! Approach with extreme caution.

A Webley Mk VI… or is it?

Webleys are the iconic English military pistol. They’ve been around since 1887, and continued in Commonwealth and U.K. military service until withdrawal in 1970. The most famous of the Webley series was the Mk VI dating back to World War I, all of which were factory chambered in the oddball .455 Webley (most have since been rechambered for reduced pressure .45 ACP loadings). Worldwide there are probably tens of thousands of these things still being used in former colonies of the British Empire.

A Webley Mk VI… or is it?

Well, this certainly looks like a Webley. And it’s even stamped “WEBLEY PATENTS” above the trigger guard:

“WEBLEY PATENTS” stamp

And it’s stamped as a “MARK VI” along the backstrap:

“MARK VI” stamp

The “broad arrow” stamps are a nice touch as well. The “broad arrow” was used as a British property stamp, and those “broad arrows” are all over this weapon. And I do mean all over it.

British “broad arrow” property stamp
I count five “broad arrows” on this image alone
Even on the trigger!

Indeed, this weapon even operates like a traditional top-breaking, self-extracting Webley revolver. You can see in the sequence below how this thing elegantly breaks open at the top. Then, as you continue to rotate the barrel-cylinder assembly away from the frame, the star extractor arm extends to eject cartridges from the cylinder. Finally, continue even farther and the extractor arm snaps back into its recessed position, ready for the user to reload the cylinder with fresh rounds.

Thumb the cylinder lock below the hammer to break open
Continue rotation to extend the star extractor arm (above the cylinder) to unload spent cartridges
Extend farther and the star extractor snaps back into the cylinder for reloading

I believe Smith & Wesson pioneered this break-top, self-extraction concept back in 1870 with their S&W Model 3. If there is an earlier version, I’d love to hear about it. And, yes, I am aware of the break-top 1858 French Divesme, but it used a manual extractor rod to push cartridges out from the front one at a time rather than an automatic self-extractor to pull out of them simultaneously from the rear. At any rate, this Smith & Wesson-style extractor is now more closely associated with Webley revolvers.

“Broad arrow” acceptance marks even on some of the screws

As you may have guessed by now, looking at all the bizarre “broad arrow” proof marks, there is something decidedly amiss with this “Webley.” But there are other clues, such as nonsensical “English” stamps:

“AMEBRAHIMLEE&SON”? Really? And bracketed by yet more broad arrows?
And don’t even ask me what these three cylinder stamps represent

Well, let’s take look at the serial number for some additional clues:

Serial Number 1950

But, wait. What’s this stamped above the trigger guard?

195018

So, which is it? Is the serial number 1950, or 195018? Being on the cautious side, and noting that the frame usually bears the serial number, the gun store went with 195018 on the ATF Form 4473. Probably a good move, as I’m pretty sure that’s the number it would have been imported under. Although… there is no import stamp, so it’s very likely a G.I. bring-back from…. Any guesses yet? I’ll give you a clue. This had to have wound up in the duffle bag of someone returning from a recent combat zone which would in the past have been under the United Kingdom sphere of influence (hey, it is after all a WEBLEY, right?). And the logical suspect would be…

More nonsense, probably from a non-English speaking “manufacturer”

I’m sure some of you have probably guessed by now that this an infamous, and here in the U.S. a very rare and much sought, “Khyber Pass clone” from somewhere along the Pakistan-Afghanistan border. These clones are still made today by local gunsmiths operating their own metallurgic furnaces, casting and forging parts copied from abandoned relics of conflicts from long ago. In other words, this is a poor copy of a Webley revolver made at the hands of some backyard smithy. He then embellished his work of art with fake stamps meant to convey a place of origin on distant soil this gun never saw.

More gibberish and additional “broad arrows”

The only question remaining is which side of the Kyber Pass did this gun originate? Was it the Khyber Pakhtunkhwa region of Pakistan, or was it Afghanistan’s Nangarhar Province? My gut tells me Nangarhar, but who knows? It’s a mystery, and likely to remain as such.

Cylinder stamp

This particular example of a Khyber Pass clone is not something I’m ever going to test fire. The cylinder lockup is sloppy, and that’s an understatement. The metallurgy is suspect enough that I wouldn’t trust it to handle even the weak .38 S&W “Short for which it is supposedly chambered. Which, by the way, is a round for which the Mark VI was never chambered. Yet another clue that something is amiss.

Gibberish Galore!

I hope you enjoyed today’s Fun Firearm Friday, which closes out Revolver Week here at the blog. Next week we return to travel, with my first week-long ever review of a single cruise ship. And what a ship it is — 226,963 Gross Tonnage, 5,479 double-occupancy passenger capacity (6,780 maximum capacity), 2,300 crew, and seven distinct “neighborhoods” throughout this behemoth.

Meanwhile, if you found today’s article interesting and would like to know more about these Khyber Pass gunsmiths, here’s a nice, informative article for you to peruse:

The Gunmakers of the Khyber Pass

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Fun Firearms Friday — First Look: Ruger® AR-556® MPR


We’re finishing up “M” Week at the blog. Monday was Mosin. Wednesday we ran with Marlin. Today’s “M” is for Ruger’s MPR version of their AR-556.

I finally gave in to the AR-style rifle bug. But give in I did, after a lot of research. I had no desire to ever travel this road again, and I didn’t want to make a mistake, so I studied for months. Along the way I discovered a lot of information that directed me towards today’s subject — the Ruger AR-556 MPR (Multi-Purpose Rifle).

What were the other contenders, and how did I finally arrive at the AR-556 MPR? Let’s explore that for a moment, bearing in mind that my choices won’t necessarily align with your choices.

I’ll start with a brief look at the original AR-15 designed around the .223 Remington round. The .223 Remington was developed for the commercial varmint rifle market back in 1957, and by 1963 the first rifles chambered for this round became available. Eugene Stoner got involved when Remington invited him to scale down his existing ArmaLite AR-10 to handle the .223. The result was the ArmaLite AR-15, which like the AR-10 uses a unique direct gas impingement design (okay, not technically correct, but “direct impingement” is the popular name for it) that directed gas directly into the bolt carrier to cycle the weapon. Mr. Stoner set the barrel length at 20 inches/50.8 cm to make full use of the propellant in the .223 Remington, as barrels shorter than that length resulted in incomplete ignition of the propellant before the bullet exited the muzzle. That 20 inches also allowed for an optimal “rifle length” gas system, which would reduce recoil, thus lessening the stress on the bolt and buffer, and introduce less gas-fouling into the bolt carrier. Keep that in mind, as shorter barrels result in a shorter gas system, more recoil, faster bolt speeds causing more stress, and hotter gases getting introduced into the bolt carrier.

About this time the U.S. Air Force were looking for an alternative to their M1 and M2 carbines, and the Army were considering something easier to handle in full-automatic than their M14. This led Colt to purchase the rights for Mr. Stoner’s AR-15 from ArmaLite (contrary to myth the “AR” in “AR-15” stands for ” ArmaLite Rifle, not “Assault Rifle”). Colt then further developed the now “Colt” AR-15 into the M-16 chambered for the M193 cartridge. The M193 (not to be confused with the later similar NATO 5.56 mm round developed by FN in the 1970s) is basically a 55-grain/3.56 gram version of the .223 Remington. After some trial and error, Colt settled on 6-groove rifling with a 1:12/ 1:30.48 cm right-hand twist optimized for the lightweight 55-grain round.

Yeah . . . just  try to find a rifle-length gas system on an AR-style rifle today. There are some out there, but you’ll pay for it. The rage today is to go tacti-cool and get the barrel length down to the legal non-NFA minimum of 16 inches/40.6 cm barrel. That’s because the military’s current M4 version has a ridiculously short 14.5-inch/36.8 cm barrel and, hey, everybody wants that military look regardless of how the rifle performs in most civilian applications. (Again, don’t take offense; I’m describing my preferences here, not necessarily your preferences.)

Ruger AR-556 MPR comes in one 30-round magazine

But remember what you give up for the modern Battle-of-Fallujah look — that rifle-length gas system goes by the wayside. That gets you incomplete burning of propellant; which in turn results in a reduction in muzzle velocity and energy; increased muzzle flash from the still-burning propellant blasting out the muzzle; increased bolt speed with the additional wear-and-tear that entails; and more fouling in the receiver from hotter, unburnt gases. Sorry, but I’m just not seeing any real advantages here for civilian applications. It’s not as if I’ll be using a shortened AR-style rifle with a carbine-length gas system in an urban warfare environment, or even to protect the homestead. In an AR-style rifle I’d rather have the longer range, lower recoil, and all the other advantages that a full-length gas system affords.

Again, that’s my choice meeting my needs. When you go shopping for an AR-style rifle, you need to evaluate what works best for you. And if you like what I’m about to describe on the MPR version of Ruger’s AR-556 but want a shorter barrel, you’re in luck. Ruger also makes the MPR in a 16.1-inch version (Model 8542). You can also get the MPR chambered for .350 Legend (Model 8532) and .450 Bushmaster (Model 8522). Unfortunately, if you want .300 AAC Blackout, you must go with Ruger’s standard AR-556 (Model 8530) or get the “pistol” version (Model 8572) with an even sillier 10.5-inch/26.7 cm barrel.

Here is the list of contenders that in the end were vying for my dollars:

  • SIG Sauer M400 Tread: SIG has discontinued anything longer than a 16-inch barrel; you pay for the SIG name.
  • FN 15 Military Collector M16: 20-inch barrel available; but lacked a lot of features for an MSRP of $1,749.
  • Colt: The original; you can’t go wrong with the Prancing Pony, but only the expensive M16A1 Retro Reissue offered a rifle-length gas system . . . at $2,499 MSRP!
  • Springfield Saint: Barrel maxes out at 16 inches.
  • Smith & Wesson M&P 15 Competition: This one comes closest yet to the MPR:
    • Pros: 18-inch barrel; rifle-length gas system; two-stage match trigger; 15-inch free-float M-LOK compatible handguard; full-length rail; adjustable buttstock.
    • Cons: Heavier than the MPR; MSRP is $700 higher than the MPR with nothing to show for the additional cost.

First, the relevant technical statistics for the Ruger® AR-556® MPR (Model 8514):

  • Caliber: 5.56 NATO/.223 Remington (other calibers available; see text)
  • Length: 35 to 38.25 inches/88.9 to 97.2 cm
  • Length of pull: 11.1 to 14.4 inches/28.2 to 36.6 cm
  • Weight: 6.8 pounds/3.1 kg
  • Gas system: Rifle length
  • Buffer: Mil-Spec (Military Specification) buffer tube
  • Barrel: 18 inches/45.7 cm
  • Barrel twist: 1:8, 5-groove, right hand
  • Barrel forging and metallurgy: Cold hammer-forged; 4041 chromium-molybdenum alloy steel; nitride lining
  • Barrel attachment thread pattern: ½”x28
  • Lower specifications: CNC-machined 7075-T6 aluminum forgings; Type III (Mil-Spec) hard coat anodization
  • Sights: None included in keeping with the free-floating barrel design
Barrel on the AR-556 in 5.56 NATO/.223 Remington comes with a 1-in-8 twist

Other included goodies:

  • Trigger: Ruger’s Elite 452® two-stage trigger (a huge plus for this rifle) with a claimed 4.5-pound/2-kilogram pull
  • Accessory Rail: Full length Picatinny M1913 rail
  • Handguard: 15-inch/38.1 cm free-floating Magpul® handguard with:
    • M-LOK® Slots at 3, 6, and 9 O’clock (eight slots per O’clock position)
    • Additional single M-LOK slots at 1:30, 4:30, 7:30, and 10:30 positions
  • Buttstock: Magpul MOE® (Magpul Original Equipment) SL® (Slim Line) collapsible buttstock
  • Pistol grip: Magpul MOE grip
  • Capacity: The MPR comes with one 30-round Magpul PMAG® Gen-2 MOE magazine (a pet peeve of mine; come on, Ruger, you can do better than just one magazine)
  • Owner’s Manual: Of course
  • Safety lock: Cable type key lock
  • Box: Cheap cardboard, of course
Ruger AR-556 MPR

Now let’s take a look at the rifle.  First off, that scope you see mounted does not come with the AR-556 MPR. Indeed, since this rifle has a free-float barrel, it does not come with a sight of any type — not even the usual combination gas block/front sight most associated with this type of rifle. As such, you’ll have to cough up some money upfront to fix that. The scope you see mounted here is a Vortex Crossfire II 1-4×24 with Vortex’s V-Brite red dot.

Barrel is free-floating

Also not included was the two-point sling you see pictured, nor the M-LOK Quick Dismount (QD) rail attachment. The MOE SL buttstock does however have a QD attachment point, in addition to a slot for your sling if you prefer.

Magpul MOE SL collapsible butt stock
Magpul MOE SL collapsible butt stock

But no matter what sight you choose to mount, there’s nearly 20 inches/51 cm of slot “rail” estate along the rail atop the MPR’s flat upper receiver. Go with iron sights, red dot, red dot with magnifier, low-power scope, high-power scope, night scope, or even optics co-witnessed with iron sights if you wish. The options are limited only by your imagination and your wallet.

Nearly 20 inches of rail for lots of customization options

Now, what about Ruger’s claimed 4.5-pound/2.04 kg Elite 452 trigger? Turns out they fudged on that one. The pull worked out closer to 4.17 pounds, but I’m not going to quibble when it’s to my advantage. The actual five-pull average came in at a mere 4 pounds 2.7 ounces/1.89 kg. Trigger reset is so miniscule I had trouble measuring it, but my best eyeball guesstimate puts it at around an eighth of an inch, or about 3 mm.

Magpul MOE pistol grip

I’ve yet to fire the AR-556 MPR, so I haven’t even had the opportunity to sight in the Crossfire II. But I can tell you how I perceive the handling characteristics thus far. The MPR is well balanced and easy to handle. It’s both light and comfortable to carry, and quick to get on target when the sling is properly adjusted. All controls are just where one would expect on any AR-style rifle, so there are no surprises here and they are all easy to manipulate . . . if you’re righthanded; none of the controls are ambidextrous.

No ambidextrous controls on this rifle
Controls

Fit and finish I would rate as good. The MPR certainly looks good. There was one minor flaw in the hard coat anodization on the edge of the magazine well (see below). But that’s a quibble. It’s not worth the time and effort for a trip back to the mothership for a rifle that is meant to be used.

A word of caution: make sure you disassemble your MPR and check for copious amounts of lubrication. One of the things I really appreciate about Ruger is that they way overengineer nearly everything they make, but they also love to overlubricate. In the case of this MPR, there was far too much lubricant inside the bolt carrier and on the tail of the bolt. I hate to think how much carbon would have cooked onto those surfaces if I hadn’t wiped them down. Other areas were positively dripping with lubrication as well, but that’s been remedied.

Ruger’s fit and finish almost got an A+, except for this

Overall, I’m impressed. But then I’m also a novice in the AR market, so there’s that. Perhaps I’m just easily impressed. But I don’t believe that’s the case here. For all the features Ruger threw into this AR-556 variant, the MPR is an impressive rifle at a price point hundreds less than anything comparable in a nationally known and respected brand.

Ruger AR-556 MPR

That concludes this week’s firearms series. If you’re not a fan, do not despair.

Next week this blog returns to travel the photography. That series will start in Ireland, head transatlantic with a stop in Ponta Delgada in the Azores, continue into Key West for some sunset photos, then head over to the Mayan ruins of Chichen Itza on the Yucatán Peninsula.

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