Category Archives: GUATEMALA

60,000 Mayan structures preserved under dense Guatemalan jungle

Lasers Reveal 60,000 Ancient Maya Structures in Guatemala

Researchers have identified more than 60,000 previously unknown structures in northern Guatemala after extensive aerial LiDAR (Light Detection And Ranging) surveys.

Extensive LiDAR scans demonstrated that the region was more densely populated than previously thought

Their findings show that the region’s pre-Columbian civilization was “far more complex and interconnected than most Maya specialists had supposed,” according to National Geographic.

Scientists mapped more than 800 square miles of Guatemala’s Maya Biosphere Reserve and uncovered an extensive network of previously-unknown structures, quarries, farmland, and roads.

Based on the data, researchers believe that the region supported an advanced civilization on par with that of ancient Greece or China, rather than a series of isolated city-states.

Tulane University archaeologist Francisco Estrada-Belli says that the surveys reveal that the region was far more densely populated than previously thought: “it’s no longer unreasonable to think that there were 10 to 15 million people there,” even in areas that were thought to be uninhabitable.

Archaeologists will now study the data to refine their understandings of the region’s inhabitants. The surveys found more than just ancient structures: they found evidence of pits from modern-day looters.

LiDAR mapping has proven to be a useful tool for archaeologists in recent years, who have used the technology to penetrate the dense rainforests of South America to reveal human-made structures that have long been hidden.

The ancient Maya city of Tikal in Guatemala.
Extensive defensive systems and irrigation canals suggest a highly organised workforce.

Aircraft-mounted LiDAR sensors shoot lasers into the ground, which bounce back once they hit an object. While the lasers hit tree leaves and vegetation, they also hit the ground.

Once scientists peel back the forest canopy and underbrush, they’re left with detailed images of the ground.

Last year, author Douglas Preston detailed an expedition to Honduras in his book The Lost City of the Monkey God, where archaeologists used LiDAR to uncover a pair of ancient cities in the middle of an impenetrable rainforest.

The survey comes from The Foundation for Maya Cultural and Natural Heritage (PACUNAM), a Guatemalan nonprofit organization dedicated to historical preservation, archaeological research, environmental conservation, and sustainable economic development.

This project is just the first phase of a three-year project that’s expected to survey 5,000 square miles of the region.

According to Ars Technica, researchers on the project will be submitting their findings to papers soon, but they will be revealing some of their work in an upcoming National Geographic special.

Over half a century ago, deep in the jungles of Guatemala, a gigantic stone head was uncovered 

Over half a century ago, deep in the jungles of Guatemala, a gigantic stone head was uncovered

The face had fine features, thin lips, and a large nose, and its face was directed up at the sky.  Unusually, the face demonstrated Caucasian features that were not consistent with any of the pre-Hispanic races of America.  The discovery rapidly attracted attention, but just as quickly it slipped away into the pages of forgotten history.

News of the discovery first emerged when Dr. Oscar Rafael Padilla Lara, a doctor of philosophy, lawyer and notary, received a photograph of the head in 1987 along with a description that the photograph was taken in the 1950s by the owner of the land where the head was found and that it was located “somewhere in the jungles of Guatemala”. 

The photograph and story were printed in a small article in the newsletter ‘Ancient Skies’, which was picked up and read by well-known explorer and author David Hatcher Childress, one of our guest authors at BBC, who sought out to discover more about the mysterious stone head.

He tracked down Dr. Padilla who reported that he found the owners of the property, the Biener family, on which the monolith was found. The site was 10 kilometers from a small village in La Democracia in the south of Guatemala.

However, Dr. Padilla said that he was in despair when he reached the site and found that the site had been obliterated: “It was destroyed by revolutionaries about ten years ago. We had located the statue too late. It was used as target practice by anti-government rebels. This totally disfigured it, sort of like the way the Sphinx in Egypt had its nose shot off by the Turks, only worse,” he said.

The eyes, nose, and mouth had completely gone. Padilla was able to measure its height as between 4 and 6 meters, with the head resting on a neck. Padilla did not return again to the site due to armed attacks between government forces and rebel forces in the area. 

The destruction of the head meant the story died a rapid death until it was picked up again a few years ago by filmmakers behind “ Revelations of the Mayans 2012 and Beyond ” who used the photograph to claim that extra-terrestrials have had contact with past civilizations.

The producer published a document written by Guatemalan archaeologist Hector E Majia who wrote: “I certify that this monument presents no characteristics of Maya, Nahuatl, Olmec or any other pre-Hispanic civilization.

It was created by an extraordinary and superior civilization with awesome knowledge of which there is no record of existence on this planet.”

However, far from helping the cause and the investigation into the monolith, this publication only served to have the opposite effect, throwing the whole story into the hands of a justifiably skeptical audience who thought that it was all just a publicity stunt. Even the letter itself has been drawn into question with some saying that it is not genuine. 

Nevertheless, it appears the giant head did exist and there is no evidence to suggest the original photograph is not authentic or that Dr. Padilla’s account was false.  So assuming it was real, the questions remain: Where did it come from? Who made it? And why?

The region where the stone head was reported to have been found, La Democracia, is actually already famous for stone heads which, like the stone head found in the jungle, also face skyward. 

These are known to have been created by the Olmec civilization, which flourished between 1400 and 400 BC.  The Olmec heartland was the area in the Gulf of Mexico lowlands, however, Olmec-style artifacts, designs, monuments, and iconography have been found in sites hundreds of kilometers outside the Olmec heartland, including La Democracia. 

Nevertheless, the stone head depicted in the 1950s photograph does not share the same features or style as the Olmec heads.  The late Phillip Coppens, Belgian author, radio host and TV commentator on matters of alternative history raised the question of whether the head “is an anomaly of the Olmec period, or whether it is part of another – unknown – a culture that predated or post-dated the Olmecs, and whose only artifact identified so far is the Padilla head”.

Other questions that have been posed include whether the structure was just a head, or whether there was a body underneath, like the Easter Island statues, and whether the stone head is linked to any other structures in the region. 

It would be nice to know the answers to these questions but sadly it appears the publicity surrounding the film “Revelations of the Mayans 2012 and Beyond” only served to bury the story deeper into the pages of history.  Hopefully an ambitious explorer will pick up the story once again and investigate further to find the truth regarding this enigmatic monument.

The tomb of Mayan “God-King” discovered in Guatemala, his status determined by the carved jade mask

The tomb of Mayan “God-King” discovered in Guatemala, his status determined by the carved jade mask

The grave of an old Mayan king was found in the pre – Columbian El Perú-Waka ‘s site in Guatemala by archeologists. The royal tomb, dating back to 300–350AD, was the oldest in the northwest part of the Petén region

“We agree this could be one of the first rulers of the Wak empire, even if estimates are preliminary and need further study,” archeologist Griselda Perez Robles told LiveScience via email.

Together with two colleagues, Pérez Robles helped lead the tunnel excavations in the Acropolis of the site and the findings were carried out.

The jade mask found in Burial 80 at the El Perú-Waka’ Regional Archaeological Project in Guatemala. Courtesy of Proyecto Arqueológico Waka’ and the Ministry of Culture and Sports of Guatemala.

“Excavations from outside the building took 76 days of uninterrupted work,” Pérez Robles added, noting that the discovery of the tomb itself took place on day 65 and required eight intensive days of work.

“We removed one of the rocks and could see a funeral chamber with bone remains. Their offerings were covered with cinnabar, which indicated that it was a personage of royalty.”

The discovery of Burial 80 at the El Perú-Waka’ Regional Archaeological Project in Guatemala. Courtesy of Proyecto Arqueológico Waka’ and the Ministry of Culture and Sports of Guatemala.

The tomb, the seventh to be found at the site, has been named Burial 80. It contained a carved jade mask that depicts the departed ruler as the Maya god of maize, as well as 22 ceramic vessels, Spondylus shells, jade ornaments, and a shell pendant carved in the shape of a crocodile.

“The Classic Maya revered their divine rulers and treated them as living souls after death,” David Freidel told the Source at Washington University in St. Louis, where he is a professor of anthropology.

“This king’s tomb helped to make the royal palace acropolis holy ground, a place of majesty, early in the history of the Wak dynasty.”

Excavation of Burial 39 at El Perú-Waka’, Petén, Guatemala, Left to right: Jennifer Piehl, Michelle Rich, and Varinia Matute

Located at the intersection of the San Pedro and San Juan rivers, El Perú-Waka’ was a key area of commercial exchange in Petén in ancient times.

“The discovery of Burial 80 allows us to get closer to the knowledge of the first centuries of the site, when it was in development, although it already had an established social organization and a complex ideological system,” said Pérez.

Excavations have been ongoing at the El Perú-Waka’ Regional Archaeological Project since 2003. 

“The site, given its history and influence in the region, is extraordinary,” said Pérez Robles. “It would not be surprising if further findings of great relevance continue to be uncovered.”

Grave of the king who laid foundations for Mayan civilization in 700 B.C. unearthed

Grave of the king who laid foundations for Mayan civilization in 700 B.C. unearthed

This is the extraordinary grave of an ancient king credited with laying the foundations for the Mayan civilization more than 2,000 years ago, which has been discovered by archaeologists in Guatemala.

Researchers said they uncovered the grave of King K’utz Chman, a priest who is believed to have reigned around 700 B.C., at the Tak’alik Ab’aj dig in Retalhuleu, in the south-west of the country.

Packed with jade jewels and other artefacts, it is the oldest royal Mayan burial ground ever found.

‘He was the big chief,’ government archaeologist Miguel Orrego said. ‘The ruler who bridged the gaps between Olmec (pre-Mayan) and Mayan cultures and initiated the slow transition to Mayan rule.’

Historians believe he was the first leader to introduce elements that would define Mayan culture, such as building pyramids instead of square structures and carving sculptures that profiled royal families.

Guatemala is studded with ruins from the ancient Mayan civilization, which thrived between A.D. 250 and 800 and extended from modern-day Honduras to central Mexico. The Olmec Empire began to fade around 400 B.C. while Mayans grew in number and wrested control of trade routes.

Inside the grave, the team found glistening jade jewels including a necklace with a pendant carved in the shape of a vulture’s head, a symbol that represented power and high economic status, and that was given to respected elder men.

Amazing find: More pots found in the royal tomb of the Mayan king, located to the west of Guatemala City
Verification: Scientists found the grave in June, but it has taken until now to confirm it belonged to K’utz Chman
Past times: Ceramic dolls found in the royal tomb of the Mayan king discovered at the Tak’alik Ab’aj dig

This symbol gives this burial greater importance,’ Mr. Orrego said. ‘This glyph says he (is) one of the earliest rulers of Tak’alik Ab’aj.’

Scientists found the grave last year, but it has taken until now for experts to verify it belonged to K’utz Chman.

Although no human remains were found at the site, the carbon-dated artefacts suggest that the king was buried between 770 to 510 B.C.

‘The richness of the artifacts tells us he was an important and powerful religious leader,’ archaeologist Christa Schieber said. ‘He was very likely the person who began to make the changes in the system and transition into the Mayan world.’

Jade beans: Guatemala is studded with amazing ruins from the Mayans, who thrived between A.D. 250 and 800
Importance: The team found glistening jade jewels, including a necklace with a pendant carved in the shape of a vulture’s head – a symbol that represented power and high economic status
On location: The site of the discovery of the royal tomb at the Tak’alik Ab’aj dig in Retalhuleu in Guatemala

Experts said the array of jade articles in the tomb could provide clues about production and trade.

Susan Gillespie, an archaeologist at the University of Florida who was not involved in the excavation, spoke about the find.

She said older tombs have been found from ruling circles at the Mayan site of Copan in Honduras as well as in southern Mexico, where the pre-Mayan Olmec culture flourished.

Olmec influences are present in the area around Tak’alik Ab’aj, indicating possible links.

She said that because it is near a jadeite production center, the find could shed light on early techniques and trade in the stone, which was considered by the Maya to have sacred properties.