for National Geographic News
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.
In 1997 an expedition headed by Ian Graham of Harvard University and David Stuart, now at the University of Texas at Austin, found evidence at La Corona that lead them to first suggest that La Corona was Site Q. Canuto's finding now provides incontrovertible evidence.
"This discovery helps resolve one of the longest and widest hunts for a Maya city" in the annals of Maya archaeology, he said.
However, the puzzle may not be fully solved.
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