Archaeology

Guatemala as the heart of the Maya World possesses many archaeological sites which can be visited so that you may discover the secrets of the Maya civilization. One of the most important sites to visit is Tikal National Park. This site was declared a UNESCO World Heritage site in 1979 and is situated in Petén in the midst of the Maya Biosphere Reserve.


AGUATECA
A visit of Aguateca is special due to its location in the midst of the rainforest next to the Passion River. It was already populated during the Pre-Classic period (200 – 150 BC) and subsequently abandoned. During the Classic period from 600 – 850 AD Aguateca experienced another peak period. The city is surrounded by an extensive system of defensive walls and is usually accessed by boat. There is a simple but attractive Eco-Lodge nearby where you can enjoy accommodation in the midst of the tropical forest.

CANCUEN

This site is located in Alta Verapaz and was discovered in 1907. It is now under archaeological excavation and a visit is still an adventure since the site is not accessible easily. Cancuen was a major city during the Classical period. As a trade center it specialized in the commercialization of jade and obsidian due to its strategic position along the Passion River which the Maya used as a trade route. In Cancuen one of the largest palaces of the Maya world was discovered, occupying a size of nearly 23,000 square meters and featuring some 200 rooms. It was built by the ruler Taj Chan Ahk in 770 AD. The city had two ball courts, a large marketplace and a dock on the Passion River. In a burial several dozen bodies dressed in royal garments were discovered near the base of the central pyramid. Scholars to believe that it was connected to the upheaval that accompanied the collapse of the Maya civilization.


CEIBAL
This site is also situated on the Passion River. The principal phase of occupation was in the Late Pre-Classic period (400 BC – 200 AC). After its decline in the Early Classic period, Ceibal experienced another peak period in the Terminal Classic, reaching a second peak from about 830 – 890 AD with an estimated population of about 10,000 people. The site is reached via a pleasant boat trip and is special due to its location in the rain forest jungle. The dates found on the stelae at Ceibal are unusually late and stelae show artistic influence from the Gulf Coast of Mexico.

COPAN - UNESCO World Heritage

Exceptional site with delicately sculpted stelaes worth seeing. It was the capital city of a major Classic period kingdom from the 5th to 9th centuries AD. Copán´s occupational history spanned more than two thousand years, from the Early Pre-Classic period right through to the Post-Classic. The city developed a distinctive sculptural style within the tradition of the lowland Maya. The city’s historical record spans the greater part of the Classic period and has been reconstructed in detail by archaeologists and epigraphers as the site offers a wealth of inscriptions on its stelae and especially on its hieroglyphic stairways. The city suffered a major political disaster in AD 738 when Uaxaclajuun Ub'aah K'awiil, one of the greatest kings in Copán's dynastic history, was captured and executed by his former vassal, the king of Quiriguá. The museum is also very well documented. Don't miss it!

EL MIRADOR
This site is near the Mexican border and can only be reached via a 5- or 6-day trek on foot. It was a very large site, featuring an outstanding amount of buildings. El Mirador flourished from about 600 BC and reached its peak period from about 300 BC to 100 BC. During this period it is estimated that El Mirador was populated by some 100,000 people. The most notable of its pyramids is the La Danta pyramid with a height of about 70 meters. With a considered total volume of 2,800,000 cubic meters La Danta is considered one of the largest pyramids in the world. El Mirador was connected by causeways to the nearby sites of Nakbe and El Tintal, which also will be visited as part of the trek.

EL ZOTZ
Archaeological site located in the middle of the jungle, the access is by foot also. This site is the habitat of wild animals typical to that area, including the "perico ligero", a kind of ant eater, as well as bats, which are very important in the biosphere for the spreading of the seeds. El Zotz is located about 20 kms west of Tikal. The tallest temple structure is approximately 45 m high and is known as "El Diablo" (the devil).

IXIMCHE
This Pre-Columbian archaeological site located 90 kms west of Guatemala City. It was the capital of the Late Post Classic Kaqchiquel Maya from 1470 until its abandonment in 1524. The site consists of three well-presented plazas, a palace and two ball courts. The city was built at an altitude of 2,260 meters in an easily defensible position on a ridge surrounded by deep ravines, in order to defend the city from its hostile K’iche and Tz’utujil neighbors.

QUIRIGUA - UNESCO World Heritage
This small site is situated in the middle of a banana plantation and is famous for the tallest stelaes known from the Mayan culture. They are still well preserved and the site was declared Patrimony of Humanity by the UNESCO in 1981. These beautiful steles tell the story of the relationship between Quirigua and its neighbor city Copan and were commissioned by the ruler at that time, Sky Cauac, to proclaim his victory when defeating Copan in 738 AD.

TOPOXTE
Topoxte in the lake Yaxha was first occupied in the Late Classic by noble families from Yaxha as demonstrated by the remarkable burial 49 which was found in this site. The access is by boat from Yaxha.

TIKAL - UNESCO World Heritage
One of the largest archaeological sites in Mesoamerica. Visit of the famous Plaza Central with the Temples I and II, the Temple IV, which is the highest known temple in the Maya world, Temples III and V, the North and Central Acropolis, as well as the Lost World astrological observation center, where you will learn first-hand about Mayan astronomy and astrology, the importance of time and its measurement and how the special cosmic influences of each day translated into the Maya Calendar. Tikal reached its peak period around AD 700 under its King Hasaw Chan Kawil (AD 682 to AD 734). The natural park covers a surface of 552 km2. Around this ancient city more than 3000 structures like temples, palaces, ball courts and even a sauna have been uncovered.

UAXACTUN
A very ancient Mayan city situated in the National Park of Tikal approx. 12 km north of Tikal. This site is well known for its astronomical observation center. It takes about one hour (by car) to get there.

YAXHA
Our favorite site: A lake surrounded by the tropical forest of the Mayan biosphere with many animal species, some endangered. The archaeological site which consists of more than 500 structures, including 40 stele, 13 altars, 9 temple pyramids, and 2 ball courts. The top of Temple 216 provides a fantastic view of the two lakes and the surrounding jungle canopy. On Plaza C is the only twin-pyramid complex outside of Tikal that commemorates a Katun, a 20 years period. The fact that the site holds the twin-pyramid complex is a visible insight on the political alliances that influenced the architectural style of the city. You can spend the night in an Ecolodge nearby the archaeological site. Enjoy a breathtaking sunset from the top of Temple 216, with parrots, toucans, howler and spider monkeys around you, who seem to observe the visitors.


Extension to Mexico

BONAMPAK
Located in Mexico, this site is "run" by the Lacandon Maya, who consider themselves to be the only true descendants of the Mayans. Although the site is small, it is well known for a number of murals, most especially those located within Structure 1 (The Temple of the Murals). The paintings show the story of a single battle and its victorious outcome. The construction of the site’s structures dates to the Early Classic period (580 to 800 AC)

YAXCHILAN
Situated in Mexico on the other side of the Usumacinta River. This is a very beautiful and well restored Mayan site. In the Late Classic period Yaxchilan was one of the most powerful Maya cities along the Usumacinta River. The site was a rival with Palenque against which it sustained a war in 654 AC. The site is particularly known for its well-preserved sculptured stone lintels set above the doorways of the main structures. These lintels, together with the stelae that are found before the major buildings, contain hieroglyphic texts describing the dynastic history of the city.

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