Two ancient Maya sites discovered in southern Mexico

Two ancient Maya sites discovered in southern Mexico


Two ancient Maya sites discovered in southern Mexico. One of the two sites had been visited in the 1970s by the American archaeologist Eric Von Euw, who documented several stone monuments and an extraordinary façade with an entrance representing open jaws of the earth monster, but the results of his work have never been published.

Two ancient Maya sites discovered in southern Mexico

His drawings, kept in the Peabody Museum of Archaeology and Ethnology, Harvard University, USA, have been known to some specialists, but the exact location of the site, referred to as Lagunita by Von Euw, was a mystery. In spite of several attempts at relocating it, Lagunita remained lost until a few weeks ago, when rediscovered by Dr. Šprajc and his team.

Two ancient Maya sites discovered in southern Mexico

The other site located during the recently accomplished fieldwork had never before been reported. The archaeologists baptised it with the name Tamchén, which means “deep well” in Yucatec Maya, in allusion to the presence of more than 30 chultuns (bottle-shaped underground chambers, largely intended for collecting rainwater), some of them as deep as 13 m.

During the two-month field season, Šprajc was assisted by geodesist Aleš Marsetič, researcher at ZRC SAZU, archaeologists Atasta Flores Esquivel and Octavio Esparza Olguín, and architect Arianna Campiani, Ph. D. students at the Mexican National Autonomous University (UNAM), as well as several local workers.

Unexplored territory

Lagunita and Tamchén are situated in the southern portion of a vast, archaeologically unexplored territory in central Yucatan lowlands. Except for Chactún, the large Maya city discovered by Šprajc’s team in 2013, no other site has so far been located in this area, which extends over some 3000 sq. km, between the so-called Río Bec and Chenes regions, both known for their characteristic architectural styles in vogue during the Late and Terminal Classic periods (c. A.D. 600 – 1000).

Aside from a ball court and a temple pyramid almost 20 m high, the core area of Lagunita has a number of massive palace-like buildings arranged around four major plazas. The most spectacular feature is a profusely decorated façade with a monster-mouth doorway. Representing the gaping maws of the earth and fertility deity, these zoomorphic portals characterise both Chenes and Río Bec architectural styles, most prominent examples being those at Chicanná, Hormiguero, Hochob and Tabasqueño. “The Lagunita façade is very well preserved, and we accurately documented all the details using 3D photo scanning technique,” Arianna Campiani commented.

Also found at Lagunita were 10 stelae and three altars, some of them with well-preserved reliefs, including hieroglyphic inscriptions. “The date on Stela 2 corresponds to A.D. 711, suggesting that Lagunita flourished contemporarily with the nearby Chactún, where we also found monuments with dates falling in the eighth century,” says project epigrapher Octavio Esparza. “To judge by both architectural volumes and monuments with inscriptions, Lagunita must have been the seat of a relatively powerful polity, though the nature of its relationship with the larger Chactún, lying some 10 km to the north, remains unclear.” The importance of Lagunita is further attested by the great density of residential mounds, terraces, albarradas (low dry walls) and other settlement remains in the surrounding area.

Similarly imposing is the site of Tamchén, located about 6 km northeast of Lagunita: there are several plazas surrounded by voluminous buildings, including a pyramid temple with a rather well preserved sanctuary on top and a stela and an altar at its base, as well as an acropolis supporting a courtyard with three temples on its sides. While Tamchén seems to have been largely contemporaneous with Lagunita, both the triadic compound and surface ceramics indicate its settlement history goes back to the Late Preclassic (c. 300 B.C. – A.D. 250).