Antiquities and Archaeology News Mexico

Archaeologists discover two Maya cities in Calakmul

Lagunita and Tamchen pose new questions about the diversity of Pre-Colombian culture

Among the extraordinary sights in Lagunita is a façade with an entrance featuring the open jaws of a monster representing the Mayan earth deity of fertility. Photo: ZRC SAZU

Archaeologists have discovered two Maya cities in Calakmul, a Unesco-protected zone deep in the jungle of Mexico’s Yucatán peninsula. One of the cities, Lagunita, is believed to have been uncovered in the 1970s by the American archaeologist Eric Von Euw, but its exact location remained unknown and the city was considered lost for decades. Among the extraordinary sights in Lagunita is a façade with an entrance featuring the open jaws of a monster representing the Maya earth deity of fertility.

“Aerial photographs helped us in locating the sites,” the expedition leader Ivan Sprajc of the Research Center of the Slovenian Academy of Sciences and Arts, told Discovery News. The Slovenian archaeologist also led a team during last year’s discovery of Chactun, another Maya city just 10km north. “In the jungle you can be as little as 600ft from a large site and not even suspect it might be there; small mounds are all over the place, but they give you no idea about where an urban centre might be,” Sprajc says.

Lagunita was identified only after the archaeologists compared the façade and monuments with Von Euw’s drawings, Discovery News reports. Well-preserved reliefs and hieroglyphics were found on three altars (low circular stones) and tall, sculpted stone shafts known as stelae. Octavio Esparza Olguin, an epigrapher from the National Autonomous University of Mexico, told Discovery News that one of the stelae was engraved on 29 November, AD 711 by a “lord of 4 k’atuns (20-year periods)”.

The other city, named Tamchen or “deep well” in Maya, is a completely new discovery. Archaeologists named the site for the more than 30 chultuns, bottle-shaped underground storage chambers the Mayas used to collect rainwater, that were found there.

The two cities feature pyramids, one of which is 65ft high, stone monuments, ball courts and plazas surrounded by palace-like buildings. “Both cities open new questions about the diversity of Maya culture, the role of that largely unexplored area in the lowland Maya history, and its relations with other polities,” the expedition leader told Discovery News.

The discoveries were made in the southern part of the Calakmul Biosphere Reserve, close to the border with Guatemala, just two months after it was added to the Unesco World Heritage list as a mixed natural and cultural site.


The two cities feature pyramids, one of which is 65ft high, stone monuments, ball courts and plazas surrounded by palace-like buildings. Photo: ZRC SAZU
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