“Fossilized” Mayan landscape found in Campeche

A team discovered an area highly modified by the ancient Mayas where clues could be found about the collapse of that culture in the area
Photo courtesy of INAH
Mexico City
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A team led by archaeologist Ivan Šprajc discovered an area highly modified by the ancient Mayas, around sites recently found in the northern part of the Calakmul Biosphere Reserve in Campeche, where clues could be found about the collapse of that culture in the area.

In the "fossilized landscape" more than a millennium ago, three large sites emerged in an area not known by Mayan archeology, such spaces were found from 2013 to 2014. Šprajc returned to the northern part of the Calakmul Biosphere Reserve to inspect the area of influence around Chactún, Lagunita and Tamchén, said the National Institute of Anthropology and History (INAH) in a statement.

The discovery of Chactún with its numerous pyramidal and palatial structures, and almost twenty or so stelae with hieroglyphics; and the later discovery of Lagunita and Tamchén - the first with a spectacular facade that represents the monster of the earth with its open jaws, and the second with elongated buildings and numerous chultunes scattered on its surface -, made it necessary to begin to determine its zone of influence.

During the research period which spanned two months, the team of archaeologists and geodesists with the support of local people managed to cross an area of more than 100 km². They went to places of potential interest located mainly to the north of Chactún, spaces referenced in the terrain elevation models obtained in 2016 for an area of 200 km² using LiDAR (Laser Imaging, Detection and Ranging).

With the use of LiDAR and during the field inspections, we found "an unusual density of housing complexes, avenues (sacbés), and agricultural modifications such as "albarradas" and terraces, indicating a significant number of inhabitants and - we suspect - the advent of difficult times for the Classic Late-Terminal period, between 600-1000 BC, which made it necessary to take advantage of the smallest piece of land, said the archaeologist.

Despite the accuracy of the data obtained by LiDAR, certain features of the structures and the presence of monuments, such as stelae and altars, can only be verified in the field. Both Ivan Šprajc and Dr. Octavio Esparza, researcher at the Center for Mayan Studies of the National Autonomous Univesity of Mexico (UNAM), say that this area, in the north of the Calakmul Biosphere Reserve, has several peculiarities.

"We found some continuity with the architectural styles of the Rio Bec and Chenes regions, which occupy the eastern part of Campeche and adjacent portions of Yucatan and Quintana Roo. This is exemplified in the zoomorphic facade of Lagunita, walls with finely carved stone blocks and twin towers; but there are surprising aspects: pyramidal constructions uncommon in the Rio Bec region and relatively small structures but with a large number of ballgame courts - each village had its ballgame, some up to two - which is rare in the Central Lowlands.

The epigraphist Octavio Esparza noted that the large number of cylindrical stones was surprising - with an average diameter of 50 centimeters; located in the squares and aligned in groups of three or five, or forming a circle, whose function has not been established. Another unusual feature, although previously found in Lagunita, is represented by quadrangular altars with stone drums as supports.

"During this season we registered only three monuments carved, apparently from the Late Classic period: a pair of altars with hieroglyphic texts and the representation of a ruler and a fleshless entity, respectively, as well as a stele with the image of an important figure, whose iconography and shape is similar to another one found in Pechal, located a short distance to the northeast of the area", Esparza said.

Šprajc concludes that for now "we have more questions than answers" about the area of influence around Chactún, Lagunita and Tamchén. After all, they only have an idea of a 200 km² area, "while the surrounding region that remains archaeologically unknown exceeds 3 thousand km2."

The 2017 investigations of the Archaeological Landscape and Cultural Dynamics project in the Chactún Area, Campeche, were funded by the Slovenian Agency for Scientific Research, Ken & Julie Jones Charitable Foundation (USA) as well as by private companies.


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