Long-Sought Maya City Found in Guatemala

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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.

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