• We have updated the guidelines regarding posting political content: please see the stickied thread on Website Issues.

The Mayans: Discoveries & Theories



maya people

i just saw a documentrey on the maya people and how they died out. they linked it to that of a major drought, can any one suggest any sites/books/videos to hunt down so i could get some more evidance on this?
*is fairly new to all this fortean stuff, still dosent know where to look for resources*
Re: maya people

ka0tic penguin said:
i just saw a documentrey on the maya people and how they died out. they linked it to that of a major drought, can any one suggest any sites/books/videos to hunt down so i could get some more evidance on this?
*is fairly new to all this fortean stuff, still dosent know where to look for resources*

I'll look for some stuff for you, okay? Saludos to good old Oz.
Thames & Hudson had a very lavish little paperback in their
New Horizons series called Lost Cities of the Maya by Claude
Baudez & Sydney Picasso. The French version dates from 1987
but the translation seems to date from 1992. Wonderful old
photographs from the first explorers and engrossing chapters
on decoding the Maya script.

Worth searching out. Plenty of second hand copies listed on
ABE Booksearch for around $5. :)

It's worth noting that while the Mayan civilisation underwent significant change from one form to another, they didn't 'die out' anymore than the Romans died out after the collapse of their Empire. Mayan peoples and descendants of the pyramid builders still live in Mexico today
OO... OOO... OOO... me, me, me, me *Raises hand in the air*

I think I saw the documentry last night on National Geographic or Discovery.

The long and the short of it was that the presenter (speculated?) that Mayans were such super star pyramid builders they ruined their local environment through construction and de-forestation which lead to crop failure and famine.

The mortar that makes up 1/16th of the pyramids volume is created by burning limestone. To produce enough burnt limestone to make each bucket of mortar required approximately 3 fully grown trees to be felled and burnt. The presenter suggested that even the smallest pyramid would require millions of buckets of mortar and therefore a corresponding number of trees.

As the prenter stood atop the biggest pyramid (side length of half a mile), now engulfed in forest/jungle, he suggested that when it was completed you wouldn't be able to see trees for as far as you could see in any direction. Over may years the deforestation lead to loss of nutrients etc in the soil, crop failure and finaly famine.

It was an excellent programme and the presenters speculation seemed very plausible. I wish it had gone into more detail though. :(

I'll try and find out the name of the prog and when its on again. :)
No, the disaster in that program was entirely natural (I saw the same episode). It was to do with a ten-year drought, or something.
No, the disaster in that program was entirely natural (I saw the same episode). It was to do with a ten-year drought, or something.

thats either the same, or a very simular documentry i saw. i'm in nsw, aussieland and the documentrey i saw was on SBS last Saturday night.

Cruithne i understand that the entire race didnt just disapear... what i was interested in was that fact that why there cultra/life stoped dead so to speak. a few people still practise it, but why are there only sao few now, when therre should have been so many?

Edward ooo.. never heard that version.. if you could track down the name, maybe the presenter of the program so i can do a google serch or something

James Whitehead
thank you for that, it loks like its worth a read

Saludos :hello:
Heres a few links for ya.






Just to re-iterate the point made by Cruithne, the Maya never 'Died Out'. when people refer to the fall of the Maya, they are referring to the collapse of the 'Classic Period' of Mayan Civilisation. the period when monumental inscriptions using the 'Long Count' (The one that 'Ends' in 2012!! ) were erected. this period spans from ad250 to around ad900. at this time the great cities of the Peten were for the most part abandoned, and the focus of Maya civilisation shifted north to the Yucatan & South & east to the highlands. The last independant Maya kingdom fell to the Spanish in 1697, the City of Tah-Itza (Tayasal) now Flores in Guatemala. Mayan Peoples of today are among the most Resilient of the Native Americans. keeping much of thier culture in spite of 500 years of persecution. Highland farmers still use the Short Count (260 day ritual calendar). The Zapatista movement in Mexico is Predominantly Mayan, and go to any Highland Guatemalan town and you'll see the brightly coloured traditional dress (Huipuiles) of the Mayan women in abundance!
4imix nailed it out pretty well. Here are some books in english:

The Ancient Maya
by Robert J. Sharer, Sylvanus Griswold Ancient Maya Morley. Stanford Univ Pr.

The Lost Cities of the Mayas: The Life, Art, and Discoveries of Frederick Catherwood
by Fabio Bourbon

Popol Vuh: The Sacred Book of the Ancient Quiche Maya
by Adrian Recinos (Translator), Delia Goetz (Translator), Aylvanus G. Morley (Translator)

You can find them pretty easily I think. There are some others, but they are not available in English or in the Amazon website. Saludos.
Early Maya

New Finds Put Maya Culture Back a Few Centuries
Wed May 5, 7:55 AM ET
By Thomas H. Maugh II Times Staff Writer

Archeologists excavating a 2,500-year-old Maya city in Guatemala
have unearthed buildings and massive carvings indicating the
presence of a royal metropolis of more than 10,000 people at a
time when, scientists had previously believed, the Maya were only
simple farmers.

New studies at the Cival site in the Peten jungle have unearthed
the oldest known carved portrait of a Maya king and two massive
stone masks of the Maya maize deity, discoveries indicating that
the Maya developed a complex and sophisticated civilization
hundreds of years earlier than previously believed.

The city of towering pyramids and sweeping plazas is yielding
other surprising artifacts, including jade and ceramic offerings
to the gods that may mark the beginnings of the Maya dynasties,
Vanderbilt University archeologist Francisco Estrada-Belli said
Tuesday during a National Geographic (news - web sites) Society
telephone news conference from Washington.

Estrada-Belli "is pushing back the time for the evidence of Maya
state institutions by several centuries," said archeologist Elsa
Redmond of the American Museum of Natural History in New York.
"We had hints of these kinds of buildings from El Mirador,"
another Maya city of the so-called Preclassic Period, which dates
from roughly 2000 BC to AD 250, Redmond said.

The Maya civilization came into full bloom at cities such as
Palenque in Mexico and Tikal in Guatemala during the Classic
Period, beginning about AD 300. But other Preclassic sites have
been built over, often repeatedly, rendering interpretation of
the findings problematic. Cival, for reasons that are not clear,
was abandoned about AD 100, "never to be occupied again,"
Estrada-Belli said, and has lain relatively untouched since. "It
is very unusual to have a completely preserved Preclassic city
that was not buried by subsequent building," he added.

"It may have been a forgotten city", he said, "or it may have
been a sacred site whose memory was preserved and where building
was forbidden. And because it was preserved, it is now clear that
'Preclassic' is a misnomer," he said. The new evidence shows
that "Preclassic Maya societies already had many features that
have been attributed to the Classic Period ? kings, complex
iconography, elaborate palaces and burials. The origin of the
Maya civilization has to be found in the first part of the
Preclassic period, rather than the last part." Cival, which is
about 25 miles east of the much better known city of Tikal, was
discovered in 1984 by Ian Graham of Harvard University. Most of
the site was overgrown by jungle, however, and Graham's team
thought it was a minor outpost.

Estrada-Belli has been studying the nearby Classic Period city of
Holmul and was using satellite imaging and global positioning
systems to explore the surrounding area when he rediscovered Cival
four years ago. _The new technology showed that its ceremonial
center spanned half a mile, more than twice Graham's initial

Estrada-Belli and his colleagues have been digging there with
support from the National Geographic Society.

Their findings and those of others studying the Preclassic period
are the subject of a National Geographic documentary, "Dawn of
the Maya," which will air May 12 on PBS.

The most spectacular find at Cival occurred by accident.
Estrada-Belli reached into a fissure in the wall while examining
a dank looter's tunnel in the city's main pyramid and came into
contact with a piece of carved stucco that felt like a snake or a

Digging into the site from the other side of the pyramid, he
discovered a 15-by-9-foot stucco mask. The one visible eye was
L-shaped and the mouth was squared, with snake's fangs in its

"The mask's preservation is astounding," he said. "It's almost as
if someone made this yesterday." The looters, he added, "just
missed it." More recently, the team discovered a second,
apparently identical, mask on the other side of a set of stairs.
The eyes appear to be adorned with corn husks, suggesting the
Maya maize deity.

Estrada-Belli believes that the masks flanked a pyramid stairway
that led to the temple room, providing a backdrop for elaborate
rituals in which the king ? viewed by people in the plaza ?
impersonated the gods of creation.

The team also found a stela, or carved stone pillar, dating to
300 BC, showing the accession of a king whose name has not yet
been determined. _Such stelae were quite common in Classic Period
cities, but none this old have previously been found. "We didn't
know there were kings then," Estrada-Belli said.

The large plaza in front of the pyramid was the scene of offerings
to the Maya gods. In a recess in the plaza, the team found a red
bowl, two spondylus shells, a jade tube and a hematite fragment.
Behind the recess was a cross-shaped depression containing five
smashed jars, one on each arm of the cross and one in the center.
The jars signify water and date to 500 BC, he said.

Under the center jar were 120 pieces of jade ? an unusual
concentration of wealth for the period ? most of them round,
polished pebbles. Nearby were five jade axes, placed with their
blades pointing upward. The pebbles probably symbolize maize and
the axes sprouting maize plants, Estrada-Belli said.

Kings in the Classic Period were thought to embody the maize god
on Earth, and it seems that this tradition started much earlier
than was originally thought, he said.

The team also found a major clue to what probably was the ultimate
fate of Cival ? a hurriedly constructed defensive wall built about
AD 100. The 6-foot-high wall "was a desperate attempt to close off
the inner core of the site," he said. The find surprised him, he
said, because "there was no previous evidence of warfare in the
Preclassic Period." Ultimately, he said, Cival "probably met the
same end as many cities in the Classic Period": conquest by a more
powerful neighbor.

Copywright © 2004 Los Angeles Times





Screenshot 2023-02-18 at 2.06.29 AM.png

Article Continues:
More Murals...


Guatemalan murals show sophistication of ancient Maya
By Marion Lloyd, Globe Correspondent
May 11, 2004

SAN BARTOLO, Guatemala -- In the sweltering bowels of a ruined
Mayan pyramid, a 10-hour drive to the nearest grocery store,
archeologists are painstakingly uncovering 2,000-year-old murals
that elaborately depict an early creation mythology.

Though they have been chipping away at the rock face for more
than two years, the archeologists continue to be astonished by
the artistic sophistication of the paintings, which predate the
Maya's Golden Age by 800 years.

"It's as if you didn't know the existence of the Renaissance,"
said William Saturno, the University of New Hampshire archeologist
who discovered the murals three years ago. "You know the art of
the 19th century and you think it's the high point ... when
suddenly someone stumbles into the Sistine Chapel and looks at
the moment where God touches the hand of Adam."

Saturno's find, widely considered the most important development
in Mayan archeology in 50 years, has provided an unprecedented
window into the Pre-Classic Maya, the dominant civilization
inhabiting southern Mexico and northern Central America from
1,000 BC to 250 AD. _Since the discovery, Saturno's team of
Guatemalan and US archeologists has uncovered the two standing
walls of the murals, which are contained within a partially
ruined chamber at the back of a 75-foot pyramid. _Mayan builders
knocked in the two other walls to allow them to construct another
layer, onion-style, on top of the existing structure. But Saturno
is optimistic he will be able to piece back together the rest of
the murals from rock fragments found inside the chamber. _He also
has set up a field school at San Bartolo, inviting six
undergraduate students, most from UNH, to join in the excavation
work this spring.

The paintings, which Saturno believes are from about 50 BC, have
transformed thinking on the Pre-Classic Maya, revealing that they
had both an elaborate written language and sophisticated
paintings. _"This is a unique view to look on what the late
Pre-Classic Maya thought about themselves and their relationship
to the world," said Karl Taube, an archeologist at the University
of California at Riverside who is the project's iconographer,
responsible for studying the murals' symbols and images. "It's
almost like a bible."

The compositions are quite complex, Taube said, and each figure
is unique, both in costume and facial expression. The painters
were obviously quite experienced. They could not correct their
mistakes because the paint is permanent, and they made few of
them, even in the fine detail of the images depicting plumes of
breath and spouts of blood.

Previously, the earliest known Mayan murals were discovered in
1946 at Bonampak, in Mexico's Yucatan Peninsula. They date to 796
AD, at the height of the Classic Period.

Unlike the Bonampak murals, which depict daily palace life, the
scenes at San Bartolo act out different episodes of the
supernatural creation myth.

They include a scene of the maize god, accompanied by scantily
clad maidens and warriors, emerging from a mythical "flower
mountain." In another scene, four bloody babies are catapulted
out of a water gourd to the farthest corners of the Earth.

Taube has managed to decipher many of the images by comparing
them with the "Popol Vuh," a Mayan text written 1,600 years
later. _"It's really exciting to see the ideology full-fledged,
and the `Popol Vuh' being spelled out on the wall in San
Bartolo at 50 BC," said Mary Miller, a specialist on early
Mesoamerican art at Yale University who has only seen photos of
the murals. "We didn't know that all this was in place -- the
compositional complexity, the ability to render the human figure."

The existence of sophisticated murals at a relatively small city
like San Bartolo was also a surprise, leading Saturno and other
experts to conclude that such murals must have decorated pyramids
throughout the Pre-Classic world. _"This means that these things
were everywhere," Saturno said. "We get to see how complex the
Mayan Pre-Classic Period really was."

The murals not only provide a codex of ancient Mayan mythology,
but also a key to deciphering early Mayan language. So far,
Saturno has uncovered 16 hieroglyphs, more than twice those
previously found on shards of pottery and stone slabs. The glyphs
also are the first discovered on a fixed site during the
Pre-Classic period.

"San Bartolo is going to be the place where we can connect the
glyphs with the scenery," said David Stuart, a Harvard
archeologist who is in charge of decoding the hieroglyphs found
at the site. To his surprise, Stuart, who recently returned from
a month in San Bartolo, said the early glyphs might even be more
complicated than those found during the Classic Period.

But he won't know for sure until he learns how to read them. So
far, he has deciphered only one of the glyphs, which means "lord"
and forms part of a caption next to a scene depicting a king's
coronation. _"It's a pure and unadulterated version of how the
universe was created and we don't have that even for the
Late-Classic Maya," Stuart said. _"It's really clear that San
Bartolo is giving us something new." For now, the murals are
likely to remain off limits to the public, to keep them safe from
looters and fluctuating humidity levels. San Bartolo is too
remote to make it viable as a tourist attraction, even if the
Guatemalan government had the money to build access roads,
develop the site, and provide adequate security.

During the three-month dry season, the ruins are a four-hour
drive in the best of circumstances from Flores, the nearest major
town, and the base for visiting the famous Tikal pyramids. During
the rest of the year, visitors would have to make the grueling
jungle trek by foot or donkey along old logging paths that become
treacherous swamps in the rain.

painted replicas soon may be on display at Harvard's Peabody
Museum of Archaeology and Ethnology, and in Guatemala City.

Secrets of the Maya: Deciphering Tikal

After decades of intense research, the ancient ruins of Mexico and Central America are yielding new insights into the pre-Columbia culture

Tikal was one of the most powerful city-states in the Americas. Though magnificent, the ruins of Tikal visible today represent but a fraction of the original city-state. During its heyday, archaeologists say, "downtown" Tikal was about six square miles, though research indicates that the city-state's population may have sprawled over at least 47 square miles. Yet most of Tikal has not even been excavated.

For much of the 20th century, Maya experts followed the lead of Carnegie Institution of Washington archaeologist J. Eric Thompson, who argued that the Maya were peaceful philosophers and extraordinary observers of celestial events content to ponder the nature of time and the cosmos. Thompson, who died in 1975, theorized that Tikal and other sites were virtually unpopulated "ceremonial centers" where priests studied planets and stars and the mysteries of the calendar. It was a beautiful vision—but nearly all wrong.

When, in the 1960s, the hieroglyphs—the most sophisticated writing system created in the New World—were at last beginning to be deciphered, a new picture of these people emerged. Mayan art and writing, it turned out, contained stories of battles, sacrificial offerings and torture. Far from being peaceful, the Maya were warriors, their kings vainglorious despots. Maya cities were not merely ceremonial; instead, they were a patchwork of feudal fiefdoms bent on conquest and living in constant fear of attack.

It is one of the ironies of this view that evidence for it has long been in plain sight. At the base of Tikal's North Acropolis stands a row of tall carved stones, or stelae. Each stela depicts a sumptuously bedecked king, and the monoliths are covered in hieroglyphs that, once deciphered, illuminated our view of Maya life.
I'm hoping to visit Tikal at some point, it's meant to be quite good to visit. I love ruins, which makes being Scottish quite useful due to the supply of ruined buildings you can go and explore. Sometimes I think I should have become an archaeologist...
I've been to Tikal, and I can honestly say it was one of the most exhilarating and wonderful experiences I have ever had... could even be the best thing I have ever done.

We got there quite late so the place was empty, and there was an electrical storm brewing, we climbed to the top of several of the pyramids so were were above the tree canopy with the howler monkeys and bats just feet away. I would go back in a heartbeat.

The place is astounding.
I would love to go to south american and visit all these temples and ancient sites, but how safe is it?

You hear all these horror stories about south america in general so is it a safe (within reason) place to visit?
Guatemala was fine, indeed I don't remember having any problems at all in central america. The foreign office has a website offering advice, but it scared the cr*p out of me when I read it.

Just follow advice in your guidebook, ask other travellers, be careful. Tikal got a particularly bad rap after a couple of girls got raped on the jungle there a few years back, and I think there were a couple of robberies/hijacks too. It is heavily wooded, I wouldn't go alone or at night, put it that way, but it REALLY is worth going, it is beautiful, I found everyone incredibly nice, Antigua was fantastic too.

I live in London, so I can't imagine the dangers are any greater than they are living in the big smoke :)
From what I hear the main danger in Tikal is the monkeys who watch you suspiciously from the trees ;) Other than that I've only heard that it's safe. And there's guides and people trying to flog you things, supposedly.

Digging away at Mayan mystery
Twice-discovered city poses puzzles for research team Site could hold key to cultural and linguistic riddles


CALGARY—The words Maya and mystery are never far apart when looking at the civilization that dominated Central America for at least seven centuries before collapsing — mysteriously — around AD 900.

Archaeologist Kathryn Reese-Taylor, a University of Calgary professor, is currently digging into one of the most intriguing of all those many mysteries, a "lost" city that not only survived being caught between two warring Mayan superpowers but also may have blazed a new path culturally and linguistically.

Working with researchers from Australia and Guatemala, Reese-Taylor co-directs a team excavating the ruins of Naachtun, an ancient city situated at the geographical heart of the Mayan civilization.

The location in northern Guatemala — between the Mayan centres of Tikal and Calakmul, across the border with Mexico — is so remote that Naachtun has been rediscovered twice.

"It's completely unexcavated except for what we've done," says the 47-year-old archaeologist, the latest in a series of top Maya scholars at the university.

"What also makes it different is that a lot of the buildings are still standing. They're not collapsed as at other Maya sites."

Simply reaching the site can involve a 30-kilometre trek by foot and mule when heavy rains make a rudimentary logging road impassable even for all-terrain vehicles. Added problems include lack of potable water, poisonous snakes and predatory grave-robbers.

"The looting has been huge, including several early tombs. The very artifacts that I need to answer many of the mysteries may have been taken away," says Reese-Taylor.

The 40-member team tackled 25 excavations during its first three-month expedition this spring and has only scratched the surface. Researchers estimate that Naachtun has at least 100 public buildings.

Overall, the ancient city probably covered a circular area that stretched a dozen kilometres from side to side and contained as many as 500 buildings for a population of as many as 40,000 people at its height.

Reese-Taylor thinks Naachtun could help fill in some of the blanks about the final collapse of the classic Mayan civilization, which is especially intriguing because the Maya were so advanced.

They charted the heavens, developed the only writing system native to the Americas and mastered mathematics and the calendar — all while the Dark Ages enveloped Europe.

At the height of their civilization in the 8th century, the Mayan heartland in northern Guatemala and the Yucatan was probably the most densely populated region in the world.

As a 1995 exhibition at the Museum of Civilization in Hull declared:

"Without advantage of metal tools, beasts of burden or even the wheel, they were able to construct vast cities with an astonishing degree of architectural perfection and variety. Their legacy in stone, which has survived in a spectacular fashion at places such as Palenque, Tikal, Tulum, Chichen Itza, Copan and Uxmal, lives on, as do the 7 million descendants of the classic Maya civilization."

The Maya actually suffered two major collapses: the first between AD 150 and 200; the second, final one, a century-long decline beginning in roughly AD 800 that emptied many of their great cities.

"There is a high probability that we're going to find out what caused the final collapse," says Reese-Taylor, referring to archaeologists studying Mayan sites in Guatemala, Belize, Honduras and Mexico.

Researchers generally believe that a combination of three factors — what Reese-Taylor calls "the one-two-three punch" — triggered the decline of many Mayan cities: continual warfare between rival kings, over-exploitation of fragile wetland ecosystems and decades of drought.

The result was famine beginning around AD 750 and mass migrations to the north.

Yet some Mayan cities were still functioning when Spanish conquistadors arrived in the 16th century.

The last independent Mayan state did not fall until 1697.

Long before the Spanish assault, the Maya in Naachtun had honed their political survival skills. For nearly three centuries, they thrived despite being in the crossfire of continual warfare between two superpower neighbours: Tikal, 65 kilometres to the south, and Calakmul, 45 kilometres to the north.

These shifting affiliations left their mark culturally as well.

Various buildings display architectural influences from both of the superpowers, but there is also a third style drawn from the region around Rio Bec, a city even farther north.

Those particular buildings appear after AD 630.

Four decades later, Naachtun somehow defeated superpower Calakmul in a war.

"This piggy-in-the-middle may have had a powerful friend in Rio Bec and was able to break through with that help," says Reese-Taylor.

Still more clues about the cultural diversity of the lost city are emerging from the deciphering of hieroglyphics incised into ceremonial stone slabs.

Known as stelae, the slabs commemorate events in the lives of Mayan kings, such a births, deaths and the assumption of office. Naachtun is especially well-endowed, with more than two dozen surviving slabs.

Already there are hints in the chosen symbols or "glyphs" of a mixing of courtly writing style from one region with a vernacular style from another. The archaeologists are busily cataloguing pottery and other artifacts with an eye to gaining further evidence that Naachtun was a cultural and ethnic melting pot.

"What drives me is trying to understand the complexity of the area," says Reese-Taylor.

"How did different languages, different ethnicities, different political systems all pull together to form a coherent region?"

Today's researchers can tackle such over-arching issues only because of decades of previous field work, in which Canadian archaeologists played substantial roles. The Royal Ontario Museum in Toronto, for instance, carried out pioneering investigations at Lamanai, a Mayan city in Belize.

And unlocking the secrets of the writing system with its 600 glyphs is a riveting tale of syllabic detective work, academic feuds and forceful personalities recounted in several books, including Michael Coe's Breaking The Maya Code.

All the accounts credit a key breakthrough to Dave Keeley, now retired from Calgary's archaeology department, and his then-student Peter Mathews.

Now a professor of archaeology at La Trobe University in Melbourne, Australia, Mathews is a collaborator in the Naachtun research. The Guatemalan co-director of the project is Martin Rangel, an archaeologist at the University of San Carlos.

The annual budget for the Naachtun research is about 0,000, with the bulk coming from the Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council, a federal granting agency.
Additional articles by Peter Calamai
Mayan "King Tut" Found


Experts Uncover Ancient Mayan Remains

By FREDDY CUEVAS, Associated Press Writer

TEGUCIGALPA, Honduras - Scientists working at the Copan archaeological site in western Honduras said Sunday they have unearthed the 1,450-year-old remains of 69 people, as well as 30 previously undiscovered ancient Mayan buildings.

Copan, about 200 miles west of Tegucigalpa, the capital, flourished between A.D. 250 and 900, part of a vast Mayan empire which stretched across parts of modern-day Mexico, Belize, Guatemala, El Salvador and Honduras. The site was eventually abandoned, due at least in part to overpopulation, historians believe. Seiichi Nakamura, one of a team of Japanese scientists working alongside Honduran counterparts, said the human remains likely belong to people who inhabited Copan around 550.

Nakamura said offerings were discovered in and around the sites where the bones were buried and artifacts found near the remains of a 12-year-old child were among the richest ever discovered in Copan, meaning the youngster was likely an important member of Mayan society.

Scientists hope to open the area to tourists in 2007, Nakamura said. The first European report of Copan is believed to be that of Diego Garcia de Palacios, a representative of Spain's King Felipe II. On March 8, 1576, he wrote to the crown with news of the archaeological site. Accounts published by U.S. explorers John L. Stephens and Frederick Catherwood made the site an international phenomenon in the 1840s.

Once a thriving commercial center, the ancient Maya are thought to have first settled in Copan around 1200 B.C. UNESCO declared Copan a world heritage site in 1981.
Mayan City 'Site Q' Found

Long-sought Maya City — Site Q — found in Guatemala
New Haven, Conn. -- A team of scientists including Marcello Canuto, professor of anthropology at Yale, has found incontrovertible proof of Site Q, a long-speculated Maya city, during a mission to the northwest Peten region of Guatemala.

The proof—an in-situ panel carved with over 140 hieroglyphs that fill in a key 30 year chapter in classic Maya history—was found in a little known ancient royal center called La Corona.

Roughly 40 years ago, the antiquities market was flooded with many exquisitely carved monuments of apparent Mayan origin. Many were purchased for private and museum collections despite a lack of provenance. Because of their similar style and shared subject matter, it was suggested that they came from some still unknown site located somewhere in the Peten lowlands. This site called Site Q — an abbreviation of the Spanish “ ¿que? ” or “ which? ” —has been the target of many expeditions.

The expedition to Guatemala this past April was to set up camp for an in-depth study later this year. On their last day in camp, Canuto and his team happened upon what they believe to be one of the monuments of Site Q.

“This panel exactly mirrors the style, size, subject matter, and historical chronology of the Site Q texts,” said Canuto. “This discovery, therefore, concludes one of the longest and widest hunts for a Maya city in the history of the discipline.”

In addition to confirming the existence and location of Site Q, the find is one of the longest hieroglyphic texts discovered in Guatemala in the last several decades. Canuto also noted that the two blocks making up the panel appeared to be in their original location in a temple platform and were in no way damaged or looted.

“The discovery reinforces the existence of a ‘royal road,’ a strategic overland route that links the Maya capital to its vassal kingdoms in the southern lowlands,” said team member David Freidel, professor of anthropology at Southern Methodist University. “For this reason, the forested enclave of Laguna del Tigre should receive serious consideration as a World Heritage Region.”

The group will be returning to Guatemala to continue the study, which was supported in part by the National Geographic Society, the El Perú-Waka’ Archaeological Project directed by David Freidel and Héctor Escobedo, and the Wildlife Conservation Society.

Other researchers included a mapping team of Damien Marken and Lia Tsesmeli, and an epigrapher Stanley Guenter, all of Southern Methodist University. Logistics for the expedition were carried out by Roan McNabb of the Wildlife Conservation Society, and Salvador Lopez, head of the department of Monumentos Prehispánicos of the Guatemalan Instituto de Antropologia e Historia (IDAEH).
Tablets May Solve Maya Mystery
Two hieroglyph-covered stone slabs found in Guatemala seem to have settled the debate over the source of a host of looted artifacts.
By Thomas H. Maugh II
Times Staff Writer

September 28, 2005

The discovery of pristine stone tablets bearing 140 hieroglyphs that record 30 years of Maya history may have solved a mystery that has puzzled archeologists for nearly half a century — the location of an elusive city long known only as Site Q.

Looted artifacts from Site Q — an abbreviation of the Spanish "¿que?" or "which?" — are in museum and private collections around the world, but their source has long been a topic of debate.

The two new tablets, discovered by archeologist Marcello A. Canuto of Yale University, may finally lay the debate to rest, proving that Site Q is an ancient royal village called La Corona in the northwest Peten region of Guatemala.

La Corona has been suspected to be Site Q since its discovery 10 years ago, but the tablets provide what Canuto called "incontrovertible" proof.

"This discovery concludes one of the longest and widest hunts for a Maya city in the history of the discipline," Canuto said.

The tablets indicate La Corona lay on a royal road constructed by the Maya empire ruled by the city of Calakmul in what is now Mexico to ferry troops and supplies north and south. It may have been the site of epic battles in the 7th and 8th centuries between Calakmul and the nearby Maya city of Tikal.

"We are able to really look for the first time at a major strategic overland road in the middle of this dramatic struggle for imperial power," said archeologist David Freidel of Southern Methodist University, who has been excavating at the nearby site of Waka, in El Peru, Guatemala. "We're opening up a new chapter of this history."

The saga of Site Q began more than 40 years ago when the antiquities market was flooded with many exquisitely carved monuments of apparent Maya origin. Because of their similar style and shared subject matter, Australian archeologist Peter Mathews suggested they all came from a previously unknown location, which he called Site Q.

The artifacts were characterized by the presence of a serpent's head, which initially led researchers to believe that Site Q was the home of the Kan, or "Snake," state. Subsequent studies, however, showed that the Snake dynasty was centered in Calakmul and that Site Q was a Kan dependency too weak to have its own symbol.

Ten years ago, Harvard archeologists David Stuart and Ian Graham discovered the ancient city of La Corona in an isolated region about 13 miles north of El Peru-Waka. They concluded it was Site Q, said Stuart, now at the University of Texas, but there were still a few doubters.

"This is one more piece of evidence that it is Site Q," Stuart said. "It's nice to see that confirmation, but we had confirmation before from other sources."

The tablets do, however, "fill in the details of the history of La Corona," he added.

Canuto stumbled across the tablets in a trench dug by looters in La Corona on the last day of his team's expedition in April. He was taking global positioning system measurements to locate more precisely the structures in the city for future excavation.

During one reading in front of a temple known as Structure 5, he hung the GPS device on a branch and entered the trench, which cut into the center of the structure. When his eyes became acclimated, he said, he "noticed two large flat stones." On closer inspection, he "realized they were covered in hieroglyphics."

The tablets are dated Oct. 25, 677, the date of the dedication of the temple in which they were found.

The hieroglyphs are carved in a style virtually identical to that of at least one other Site Q artifact. In fact, Canuto said, both sets of artifacts may have had the same sculptor.

The panels tell the story of two previously known Site Q kings, K'inich Yook and Chak Naahb' Kaan. Among other things, the panel tells how K'inich Yook was forced to remove his seat of government from La Corona to Calakmul about 50 miles northeast, apparently under pressure from the forces of Tikal.

With help from Calakmul, however, he was able to beat back the Tikal army and retake his city.

The tablets have been transported to Guatemala City for their safety, and the announcement of their find was delayed until this month to allow the team time to arrange protection for the site.

La Corona is in the Laguna del Tigre National Park, which has been widely burned by illegal developers and farmers to create farmland.

There is now some military presence at the site, as well as a contingent of forest management personnel, Freidel said.

But, he added, "it is very hard to send people out into very isolated places when there are armed thugs being paid to intimidate and capture people who are challenging their effort to take over the parks."
Scientists end mystery of Maya city

Scientists end mystery of Maya city

A decades-long mystery surrounding the rumored existence of a Maya city has reportedly ended with the discovery of the city in the jungles of Guatemala.

The city is the rumored home of ancient monuments that once flooded the art market, the Dallas Morning News reported Wednesday.

Archaeologists from Southern Methodist University and Yale University have confirmed discovering the city. The find, based on discovery of a limestone panel with more than 140 hieroglyphs, ends what one archaeologist called "one of the longest and wildest hunts for a Maya city in the history of the discipline."

It is also expected to help unlock secrets about the New World's only literate ancient civilization, the newspaper said.

Yale archaeologist Marcello Canuto found the panel in the northwest region of Guatemala, establishing an area called La Corona as the site of the ancient city.

"We had never expected to find something like that," SMU archeology graduate student Stanley Guenter told the Morning News. "A find like this is a once-in-a-lifetime deal."

The researchers plan to return to the site next spring for another expedition, with full excavation of the site possibly beginning during 2007.

Long-Sought Maya City Found in Guatemala

Long-Sought Maya City Found in Guatemala

Abram Katz
for National Geographic News

September 29, 2005
An archaeologist seeking refuge from hungry mosquitoes in the Guatemalan rain forest has solved the 45-year-old mystery of the location of Site Q. The ancient city has been the source of exquisite, looted Mayan hieroglyphs that started to appear around the world in the 1960s.

The discovery promises to fill gaps in Maya history and clarify the complex political and social roles of rival city states during a period of war and strife in 7th-century Central America.

A Yale University archaeologist and three graduate students from Southern Methodist University in Dallas, Texas, identified Site Q as La Corona, a small cluster of ruins in the remote Petén region of northern Guatemala. Their expedition was supported by the National Geographic Society, the El Peru-Waka' Archeological Project, and local guides.

Marcello A. Canuto, assistant professor of anthropology at Yale, was poking around the site while waiting for his global positioning system device to work.

He followed a looter's trench into a cavity. There, he found a 3-foot-by-1.5-foot (0.9-meter-by-0.5-meter) limestone panel of about 140 Maya hieroglyphs in the gloom of a small chamber.

"I found the hieroglyphic panels in situ. It was an amazing chance find," he said.

The translated text of the La Corona tablet is consistent with the writings on the other Site Q pieces, the archaeologist said.

The stones are also geologic matches, and an initial examination of the pieces suggests that one scribe may have produced many of them, Canuto said.

"This discovery helps resolve one of the longest and widest hunts for a Maya city" in the annals of Maya archaeology, he said.

Looted Artifacts

However, the puzzle may not be fully solved.

David A. Freidel, professor of anthropology at Southern Methodist University, and co-director of the El Peru-Waka' project, said there might be a second center in the vicinity of La Corona that contains additional Site Q materials.

One of the Site Q monuments, the "Dallas panel," was apparently cut from a throne room, but no such room is apparent yet at La Corona, Freidel said.

Looters inadvertently launched the search for Site Q in the 1960s when they began to strip and sell pieces of Maya sculpture. Peter Matthews, then a graduate student at Yale University, cataloged 30 such objects in museums and private collections.

The expert in ancient scripts and writing noticed that the pieces shared certain features. He hypothesized that the pieces came from a common site, which he nicknamed Site Q.

Then years of complex detective work began. Locations and place names had to be matched and compared to known events.

The texts of Site Q made repeated references to a place called kan, or "snake head." Archaeologists came to associate "snake head" with Calakmul, a massive Maya city with 6,000 structures and hundreds of monuments.

For a while, it was thought that Site Q, kan, and Calakmul were all the same place.

However, Calakmul's stone was so badly eroded that even most looters passed up the pieces. The Site Q sculptures were made on a different and harder type of limestone, which ruled out Calakmul.

In addition, the Maya who lived at Site Q had been recording the goings on at Calakmul, suggesting that Site Q and Calakmul were allies.

Regional War

At the time, Calakmul, in what is now Campeche, Mexico, was an archrival of Tikal, another large Maya city in the Petén region of present-day Guatemala. Calakmul forged alliances with smaller cities, such as Dos Pilas, El Peru, La Corona, and others, to surround and control Tikal.

La Corona and El Peru lay strategically near the San Pedro Martir River. In the A.D. 670s, Tikal apparently launched a two-pronged attack on the cities, hoping to gain access to territory to the west and to disrupt Calakmul's lucrative trade route to the southern highlands.

The leaders of La Corona fled and were eventually reinstated after Calakmul defeated Tikal.

The Site Q pieces refer to places and events that coincide with what to the Classic Maya was an extraordinary regional war.

"There was doubt of Site Q, and we proved it existed. It is most likely La Corona," Canuto said. The finding reveals the importance of La Corona and provides a historical record of Calakmul, whose epigraphic (ancient scripts) records disintegrated.

Freidel, the SMU anthropologist, said texts from Site Q show that its inhabitants were vassals of kan. The texts also contain evidence that the Site Q ruler had to flee to Calakmul.

Further work on El Peru-Waka' and other sites in the western Petén could confirm the events recorded at Site Q, he said.

"It's very exciting to me to participate in an opening up of the only pre-Columbian culture in which we can discuss real people and real places. This is the real ancient history of the Maya," Freidel said.

Canuto, the Yale archaeologist, said the Maya are fascinating because they had no contact with Europe or Asia and developed the only literate culture in Central America. "They had great cities, monumental art, complex social and economic systems, and an intricate social hierarchy," he said.

The Site Q panel is now safely in Guatemala City, and La Corona is under the protection of Guatemalan officials.

Archaeologists plan to return to La Corona next year.

http://news.nationalgeographic.com/news ... siteq.html
Mass grave yields Mayan secrets
By Neil Arun
BBC News

A grisly discovery deep in the Guatemalan jungle may cast new light on one of the ancient world's most beguiling mysteries - the collapse of the Mayan civilisation.

A grave containing some 50 bodies, buried in royal finery and bearing the marks of a vicious death, has been perplexing experts since it was unearthed earlier this year.

These are not the victims of "random violence", says Arthur A Demarest, the US archaeologist who has spent the best part of a decade fending off drug lords and looters as he excavated the site.

He says most of the dead, who include men, women and children, have been killed by "pulling the head back and shoving a large spear through the chest into the spine".

"You find war captives decapitated but not mass executions like this," he told the BBC News website.

Sudden collapse

Most remarkably for Dr Demarest, the attackers chose to abandon the site - the ancient trading city of Cancuen, grown rich through its position at the point where the river Pasion becomes navigable.

Winners in Maya warfare, he says, "normally conquered a place, put somebody on the throne. You would also put up some monuments bragging about what you had done."

Whoever conquered Cancuen, however, simply moved on.

As a result, the city abruptly lost its status as a key trading post along the Pasion, the river regarded as the lifeblood of the Mayas.

"This trade route dies and never comes back," he said, adding that Cancuen's collapse foreshadowed the decline of other cities along the river.

However, he warns, the sack of Cancuen should not be seen as a trigger of the Mayan civilisation's collapse.

Rather, says Dr Demarest, it can at best be treated as a "symptom" of the forces that finished off the Mayas.

Dr Demarest's findings, financed by the National Geographic magazine and by Vanderbilt University, were released last week and have yet to be scrutinised by his peers.

Many experts have cited geological evidence to argue that the Mayan civilisation died out after a famine caused by a crippling drought.

Massacres old and new

For Dr Demarest, the discovery caps a nine-year involvement with Cancuen, which began in the mid-Nineties after a peace accord ended Guatemala's civil war.

Many of the forensic experts enlisted to decode the secrets of Cancuen's ancient corpses had honed their skills investigating the relatively fresh massacre sites of the civil war.

Some 200,000 people died in 15 years of conflict between leftist guerrillas and Guatemala's US-backed military government.

Digging up the ancient grave, Dr Demarest says he was struck by how little human nature had changed over the centuries.

For his forensic team, the dig was a welcome distraction from the harrowing disinterment of the recently deceased.

"This is the first time they've worked on a massacre that took place earlier than 1980," he said.

"For them, it was a relief to dig this stuff up and not have widows crying around them."

He recalls how the discovery of a particularly well-preserved body prompted one of the team to exclaim: "Now we have evidence that can stand up in court!"

"There must be some kind of statute of limitations that applies to crimes committed 1,200 years ago," Dr Demarest responded.

'Too many suspects'

"We were not really expecting to find anything," says Dr Demarest, describing how the team stumbled upon the grave during a routine excavation of a pool at the base of a palace.

He now expects the bodies to yield many clues about the way the Maya lived.

The corpses, he says, are remarkably well preserved, having been sealed for centuries in a muddy pool irrigated by the waters of a natural spring.

The precious jewellery buried respectfully with the corpses suggests they were "high nobles" but who killed them in this manner - and why - remains murky.

"It's a bit like an Agatha Christie mystery. There are simply too many suspects," says Dr Demarest, arguing that the most plausible of these is a tribe from the highlands, possibly tied to Cancuen by marriage.

Looters and bodyguards

Dr Demarest says there are plans to co-ordinate control of the site with the local Maya community.

With excavations in Cancuen set to continue, he hopes small groups of discerning tourists will begin visiting the region.

The attention the excavations have attracted from the Guatemalan media - and from the government - has already had a positive effect, he says.

The clandestine airstrips that had sprung up in the area after the civil war, serving as a transit point for Colombian drugs, have had to move elsewhere to avoid the publicity.

But Dr Demarest stresses he has had "no problems with anyone in the political landscape, only with the looters" - a gang of which he helped convict some years ago.

Now, he says, those looters are out for his blood. Watched over by freshly-hired bodyguards, Dr Demarest waits for the academic world's answer to his discovery.

Story from BBC NEWS:
http://news.bbc.co.uk/go/pr/fr/-/1/hi/w ... 450528.stm

Published: 2005/11/21 13:06:52 GMT


edit to change title.
I've just had a thought, somewhat related to the 2012 thread, if the Mayans had have survived and were an existing culture today, even if somewhat tainted due to exposure to a dominant 'Western culture', is there any chance that, like various apocalyptical doom-mongers, they'd be revising their calendrical prophecies?
Ask them. They're still there. The civilization died. The Mayans trundled on. They're Catholics now, and I think the calendar died with the civilization, but the oral history of modern Mayans is an underavailable resource.
PeniG said:
Ask them. They're still there. The civilization died. The Mayans trundled on. They're Catholics now, and I think the calendar died with the civilization, but the oral history of modern Mayans is an underavailable resource.

That's the point I was making, they are Catholics now and the Mayan culture, as was, has gone even if their descendents are still around.