184 Zonas
Clave / IDNombreResumen ENDescripción ENSabías qué EN
AcancehOne of the main centers in the northern Yucatan Peninsula. It has two magnificent structures: The Pyramid and the Palace of Stuccos. The latter has a frieze decorated with animals, indicating a possible connection with Teotihuacan.Founded in the Mayan Preclassic (700-50 BC), much of its importance was due to the relations it maintained with other contemporary cities such as Dzibilchaltun, Oxkintok and Mayapan up until 1000 AD. After that date it entered a slow decline.

The Acanceh archeological site is located in the town of the same name, 16 miles to the south of the city of Merida in Yucatan. According to the Cordomex Maya-Spanish Dictionary its name means “cry of the deer” from "akan" meaning cry and "keh," deer.

The city had an area of 1.2 square miles and 300 structures have been recorded, with the most important being The Pyramid and the Palace of the Stuccos, which are clear examples of the site's architecture.

The Pyramid was once decorated with facade masks modeled in stucco, but these were destroyed over the years. A total of eight stucco facade masks were situated on both sides of the four stairways at the level of the third section. In 1908 Teobert Maler noted that there were two facade stucco masks located on the south facade.

Subsequent archeological work has discovered two stucco masks on the west side, two on the north side and one on the east side. The discovery has been one of the most significant of recent years.

The stucco facade masks at Acanceh measure between 7 feet 5 inches and 11 feet 6 inches in height and between 10 feet and 12 feet 2 inches in width. Each of the five stucco facade masks have a pair of ear flares, with three main designs repeated on each consisting of spirals, knots and in the lower part designs in the form of ears of corn which might be symbols of fertility and abundance. On the forehead they have a type of headdress divided into three boxes with small spirals inside.

The central element of the stucco facade masks of Acanceh is a decorated anthropomorphic head, modified and surrounded by symbolic elements which relate to the sun god Kinich Ahau. The stucco facade masks were found over stonework edifices and in a place where they could be seen by the whole community.

The Palace of the Stuccos is 164 feet wide by 20 feet high, and it presents a carved stone frieze with figures reminiscent of the Teotihuacan style.
  • The stones of the Pyramid are worked in the Puuc style.
  • The motifs of the frieze in the Palace of the Stuccos are birds of prey, squirrels and bats.
  • The archeological remains suggest that the city supported a large population.
From the city of Mérida, take State Highway 180 towards Valladolid and after a few miles take a right (to the south) on highway 184 towards Felipe Carrillo Puerto (Chan Santa Cruz), which leads to Acanceh. The structures are found between streets 18 and 21.
Acozac (Ixtapaluca)Previously known as Old Ixtapaluca, this important ceremonial center in the Valley of Mexico is mentioned in the Xolotl Codex.
AkéRemarkable for its system of roads called sacbeoob in Maya (plural of sacbe), the site is surrounded by concentric walls, and The Pilasters building is unusual because of the 36 square-based columns on top.The Ake archeological site is in the municipality of Tixkokob in the state of Yucatan, roughly 20 miles to the west of the city of Merida. Part of the archeological site is inside the former hacienda of San Lorenzo Ake.

Ake has two separate sections delimited by walls. The first wall surrounds the central part which has the monumental structures, while the second must have contained a large proportion of the site’s residential buildings.

The center of the settlement consists of a rectangular plaza with Structure 1, or The Pilasters, on the north side, Structures 13 and 9 to the east, Structure 7 to the south and Structures 6 and 2 on the west side. All of these structures have large dimensions. The central plaza covers an area of approximately 6 acres. The residential area covers an area of approximately 1.5 square miles.

Only one system for the capture and storage of water (chultun) has been found for the whole archeological site. This is located on the upper part of Structure 2. There is a system of pre-Hispanic roads or sacbeoob, which comprise four avenues leading to structures within the site, while the external sacbe connecting with Izamal is 20 miles long.

The architectural traits which typify Ake can be seen in both the structures bounding the central plaza and in the residential area. These employ building techniques characterized principally by the use of large blocks of roughly worked stone covered by a thick layer of stucco, rounded building corners, stairways with low angles of ascent, panels which are recessed into the walls of buildings, monolithic cornices and inverted step-type vaults over rooms.

A preliminary analysis of the ceramic material recovered during surveys and excavations of the structures indicate that the site was occupied from the Late Preclassic to the Postclassic. The settlement of Ake reached a high level of urban development early on, and for this reason the inhabitants maintained both economic and political treaties with sites such as Izamal.
From the city of Merida take Federal Highway 80 in the direction of Tixkokob and the town of Ake. The site is on the outskirts of the latter.
Alta Vista (Chalchihuites)One of the most important ceremonial centers of northern Mesoamerica. Its orientation allows for the observation of the Sun’s yearly movement and, like Chichen Itza, it attracts visitors at the time of the spring equinox.Alta Vista was the most important ceremonial center in the early period of the Chalchihuites culture (200-900/950 AD). It was founded between the years 400 and 450 by priests linked to Teotihuacan, and reached its full splendor in the years 700-750. The research carried out at the site reveals that it was perfectly designed, starting with its proximity to the Tropic of Cancer, which demonstrates its significance and uniqueness.

The ancient settlers of Alta Vista used the Chalchihuites mountain range as a calendar on the eastern horizon, which they used to observe the annual shift of the Sun, allowing them to anticipate seasonal changes which were very important for the farming cycle. The city’s monuments were designed not only to record the sunrise but also the Sun’s movement across the sky and sunsets. The corners of the main plazas and buildings projected outwards, in the direction of the four cardinal points, and their alignment with the Sun and the North Star indicate that Alta Vista was set up as a site of worship dedicated to the Sun and the four directions of the universe.

In addition to the site’s astronomical significance, mining activity was also very important. Approximately 800 pre-Hispanic mines are recorded, used by the Chalchihuites culture over a period of around 600 years.

This ceremonial center was abandoned between the years 850 and 900, following a considerable growth in human sacrifices.

Alta Vista was discovered in 1908 by the then archeology student, Manuel Gamio, who, after registering the site, began excavations there, mainly in what now is called the Salón de las Columnas ("Hall of Columns"). These events were published on October 25, 1908, by the Mexico City newspaper “El Imparcial.” However, due to a lack of excavation permits, the work was suspended and a guard was assigned to look after the site. Despite this, during the years that followed, the remains suffered from extensive damage.

In the 1920s, the archeologist Eduardo Noguera and the head of the Archeology Department of the Ministry for Public Education, José Reygadas Vértiz, carried out a survey of Alta Vista and performed consolidation work on the original stucco of the walls and columns. In 1930, the archeologist Agustín García Vega cleared away the vegetation and designed a roof to protect the Hall of Columns. Several years later the US anthropologist John Alden Mason visited the site as part of a research project, the results of which led to the first definition of the Chalchihuites culture. Román Piña Chan, from the INAH, and John Graham, from the University of Southern Illinois in Carbondale, dug test pits in the site's southwestern plaza in 1958.

After having made various discoveries in the region, J. Charles Kelley and a team of researchers from the University of Southern Illinois began excavations in the site during 1971, and consolidated various spaces. Subsequently, this same team carried out periods of work during 1974, 1975 and 1976. In the following years, their work continued together with archeologists from the INAH Zacatecas Center, resulting in increased research in the site’s interior and repairs to the damaged monuments. Since 1994 and to date, the archeologist Baudelina L. García Uranga, from the INAH Zacatecas Center, has continued the maintenance works at the site.
  • The ceremonial center of Alta Vista is a complex architectural site mainly made up of civic and ceremonial structures.
  • The visible remains of the buildings were not all built at the same time. There were different periods of both construction and refurbishment.
  • Alta Vista was designed based on the surrounding landscape and was established as a site of worship dedicated to the Sun and the four cardinal directions of the universe.
  • The city was conceived and built using a precise triangulation in the landscape, based on the Chalchihuites mountains.
AtzompaA monumental complex close to Monte Albán that testifies to the expansion of this culture at its height. The nobility lived here, as can be inferred from the numerous palaces, living complexes, squares and a burial complex.The monumental complex of Atzompa lies in the municipality of Santa María Atzompa, Oaxaca, between corner points 16 and 31 of the protected area boundaries for the Monte Albán archeological zone. Atzompa’s name comes from the Nahuatl words atl (“water”), tzontli (“head”) and pan (“place”), which means “at the water’s head,” a name assigned by the Mexica culture during its expansion into the Valley of Oaxaca in the Postclassic period. Atzompa is a Zapotec settlement which belongs to the pre-Hispanic city of Monte Albán. It was settled in period IIIB-IV (650-850).

The high-status palatial units within the monumental complex are noteworthy, as are its three Mesoamerican ballgame courts. Ballcourt I, the largest in the pre-Hispanic city of Monte Albán, is the most outstanding of these. Moreover, the site has a privileged view of the Valley of Etla from its northern side. It is also important to mention the quality of workmanship of its ceramic objects, such as effigy vessels, funerary urns and apaxtles (large clay pots).

The archeological project for the Atzompa monumental complex began in earnest in 2007, when the first works of excavation, consolidation, restoration and material analysis were performed. Thanks to this project, the site was opened in September 2012. Archeologically speaking, it is now one of the most important areas in the central valleys of the state of Oaxaca.
  • The large Mesoamerican ballgame court has a niche at each corner. These niches may have been used as repositories for offerings.
  • The center of the Atzompa monumental complex is divided into four main terraces.
  • An important figure was discovered to have been buried with an offering in Structure 6.
BalamcanchéThe ancient Maya inhabitants of the region constructed a ceremonial center within a cavern. Most notable is a giant pillar made by the fusion of a stalactite with a stalagmite known as the Sacred Ceiba (silk-cotton tree).This archeological site, located nearly four miles to the east of Chichen Itza, consists of a quadrangle of platforms and a cave system. It can be deduced that at some point it was part of the ancient pre-Hispanic city, and that it was in fact an important place for the worship of the rain god Chaac.

Six hundred and fifty feet from the entrance there is a geological formation, the product of the union of a stalactite and a stalagmite, whose form closely resembles the great ceiba: the sacred tree of the Maya. This is a place where ceremonial objects such as pots, incense burners and grinding stones where found. Also, at the bottom of the cavern where it meets the aquifer, an offering can be seen with incense burners and small grinding stones.

The site was discovered in 1932 but investigation began in earnest after September 15, 1959, when José Humberto Gómez, a tour guide and Mayan culture enthusiast, realized that one section of the cave chamber was man-made. Close examination revealed a stone wall with a stucco covering. Upon removal of the stones which sealed the access, it was proven that the space was connected to other chambers and that the cave was larger and more important than had previously been assumed.

Pottery finds indicate that the cave was used for ceremonies from 300 BC in the Late Preclassic up to 1200 in the Late Postclassic. The main materials used were from the Terminal Classic and the Postclassic from 900 to 1200, which would indicate that at this time the space was used intensively, when Chichen Itza was at its peak. It can be deduced that Balamcanché was very important in the sacred landscape of the city and was therefore a significant location in terms of the Mayan world view.
  • According to the ancient Maya, the gods of the water, night and underworld dwelt in caves.
  • The cave goes down to a depth of approximately 33 feet, while the passages extend to more than 1,600 feet.
BalamkúDeep in the Campeche jungle, this site is composed of three building complexes.
The polychrome molded stucco frieze of the Central Group, unique in the Mayan area,
is proof of the artistic mastery of its ancient inhabitants.

After being overlooked by specialists for many years, Balamkú was only officially discovered in 1990 when archeologist Florentino García Cruz, from INAH’s regional office in Campeche, followed up reports of the ransacking of an archeological zone that was unknown to that point, and had only been visited by locals. The looting was so extensive that it left exposed a large part of the molded stucco frieze that was mainly painted in red and black. Its name derives from the words “balam” and “kú”, which in Yucatecan Mayan mean “jaguar” and “temple” respectively, thus the building is known as the Temple of the Jaguar. The name is inspired by the feline designs found on the frieze.

Balamkú is a small site and consists of three main groups of buildings and their immediate surroundings, covering 0.4 square miles in total. So far, only the South and Central complexes have been explored and restored by experts.

The Balamkú site shows evidence of a long period of human occupation, from the Middle Preclassic (600-300 BC) until the Late Classic (800-1000 AD). During its early years it was strongly influenced by the cities of the Petén region (such as Calakmul, Nakbé, El Mirador, Uaxactún and Tikal), but between 600 and 1000 AD it came to bear a greater resemblance to the site of Becán, in the Río Bec region.

The Southern Group of buildings consists of 13 structures of varying sizes that were used for different purposes, and are distributed around four civic and ceremonial plazas. However, it should be noted that no more than six or seven of these constructions ever existed at the same time. All of the structures in this complex have been explored and most have been completely restored.

The earliest human occupation of this area of Balamkú can be dated to the Middle Preclassic and continues without interruption until the Late Classic, when it was abandoned and only briefly reoccupied in around 1200 AD.

  • Balamkú is a pre-Hispanic city linked to the Petén region in its earliest phase of occupation, and subsequently with the Río Bec area toward the end of the Classic period.
  • The center of the pre-Hispanic settlement consists of four main groups of buildings where civic, religious, political, administrative and residential activities took place around the beginning of our era.
  • The decoration of the most impressive buildings' façades reveal the ideological and dynastic importance of the local elite.
Balcón de MontezumaFrom its dimensions one can deduce that it played an important role in the trading routes of the Huasteca people. There are about a hundred limestone plinths upon which they probably built houses with palm roofs and walls made of branches and mud.
BecánA powerful regional capital, as evidenced by its monumental constructions, Becán also boasts something found nowhere else in the Maya area: a fosse surrounding the site’s most important buildings, which has seven entrances.

The archeological site of Becán is located in the southeast of the state of Campeche. In Yucatecan Mayan, its name means “path, hollow or ravine formed by running water.” It has also been interpreted as “path of the serpent," in allusion to the large, irregularly shaped fosse surrounding the center of the pre-Hispanic settlement.

The archeological site of Becán was first recorded in 1934 by the US researchers Karl Rupper and John Denison, who made an expedition to the south of Campeche under the auspices of the Washington-based Carnegie Institution and went on to produce a brief but significant study of its architecture. Later, from 1969 to 1973, Edward Wyllys Andrews IV and Richard Adams of Tulane University (New Orleans) conducted explorations of the Río Bec region, including Becán, and this brought to light more information about the architecture, systems of habitation, defense and farming, as well as the ceramics and stone carving, among other things. Various researchers attached to the National Institute of History and Anthropology (INAH) have since continued exploration, restoration, and conservation work, and communicated their findings: Agustín Peña (1977-1978), Román Piña Chan (1983-1985), Ricardo Bueno (1991-1994), Antonio Benavides (1995), Vicente Suárez (1995-1996, 2009), and Luz Campaña (1999 to 2001).

The site’s occupation can be traced back to the Middle Preclassic (600-300 BC), although the earliest structures found so far have been dated to 100 AD, namely the plinths with foundations for homes. By the end of the Preclassic period (300-250 BC), the original settlement consisting of a handful of houses had developed into a town with a much denser population. The surrounding lands were successfully farmed, and the site’s strategic location between the Gulf Coast and the Caribbean enabled it to control local trade routes.

The central part of the settlement is located within a perimeter defined by a fosse with a parapet, a construction that dates back to the end of the Preclassic. This fosse has seven entrances, each formed by a sort of solid bridge carved directly out of the bedrock and removing the local sandy limestone, also known as “sascab”; masonry work completes the volume. The fosse measures 6200 feet long and an average of 52.5 feet wide, with a depth varying between 4 and 18.7 feet.

This fosse served a number of purposes and was never designed to contain water; instead, it was part of a drainage system for the city center. It is believed to have originally been a quarry or bank from which large quantities of building materials were extracted in order to build the monumental structures. At the same time, it was designed to demarcate Becán’s civic and ceremonial area, created by three architectural complexes known as West, Center-North, and East, each one with its plaza named in the same way. This also provided a defensive aspect to this part of the site, from which the elite could exercise their political and economic power.

Early in the Classic period, the entire southern region of the current territory of Campeche was under the influence of the Petén sites. The link with Petén was obvious, as we can see in both the pottery and the architecture. Becán’s Structure XI, rising 138 feet tall, is not only the highest structure but also representative of the architecture of Petén in the Preclassic and Classic periods.

During the Classic period, various stelae were erected to commemorate the local dynasty’s important events and achievements, such as the investiture of new rulers, conquests and anniversaries. During the Late Classic (600-900 AD), Becán consolidated its position as capital of the entire Río Bec region, and it stands out from other sites in the area for its antiquity, longevity, the profusion and density of monumental buildings, as well as the quality in the elaborately carved stonework in many of these structures. This is a sign of a large population and well-organized labor system, under the control of the local ruling class, all of which led to the development of the community and  Becán’s administrative and religious buildings. Becán is believed to have maintained control over population centers such as Chicanná, Chaná, Xpuhil, Hormiguero, Payán, Culucbalom, Manos Rojas, and Okolhuitz, with which it interacted at a regional level.

Becán distinguishes itself most of the other settlements in the Río Bec region as much for having been built around a nucleus as for the monumental verticality of its buildings that have been uncovered. These towering architectural volumes conceal other, older buildings within. The majority of the site’s structures in its final period of occupation were built  between 600 and 800 AD.

Its architecture follows the Río Bec tradition: the buildings are mainly built on a semi-quadrangular base, with numerous chambers supported by a platform. They are flanked on each side by several towers with steps that simulate a pyramid with unclimbable steps with a temple on top, also simulated or at least only semi-functional. Examples of this include Structures I and VIII. Astronomic observations were possibly made in the former, which stands 49 feet tall, while the latter was used for religious activities.

Cylindrical masonry columns clad in expertly carved ashlars are notable architectural features. Río Bec architecture commonly includes decorative motifs of panels with highly stylized snake heads shown in profile, openwork checkerboard and cross decorations, stepped decorations and a series of three small tambours at the base of the buildings.

Construction work decreased significantly in the Postclassic period: the occupants preferred to continue using or partly dismantling the existing buildings. In around the year 1000 AD, the Maya city of Becán began to decline and was occupied by other communities with greater political and economic power. The population gradually dwindled, and it began to be overgrown by the dense forest vegetation.

  • Becán is the archeological site considered the capital of the Río Bec region during the Classic period.
  • The buildings’ most significant decorative elements include the stucco masks on the main façades, representing the city’s different cultural periods and reflecting the local elite’s ideological and dynastic importance.
Boca de PotrerillosThousands of carved rocks have been found here with prehistoric drawings of groups of hunter-gatherers who used to inhabit the area. The images refer to the worship of nature and meteorological phenomena, among other themes.INAH opened the doors to this site in 1995; the first rock art site open to the public in Mexico and the most important archeological site of the northeast of the country.

The mystery of this part of the state of Nuevo León, 50 miles from the city of Monterrey, began to unfold in 1989. That was when the archeologist Moisés Valadez and his team began their archeological and paleoenvironmental research. They revealed that the ancient dwellers of Boca de Potrerillos never saw the need to cultivate the land because they lived with an abundance of animals and plants, which meant they could live from hunting and gathering, including fishing the lakes and rivers. Also, radiocarbon dating has shown that the place was inhabited for more than 8,000 years and that it was inhabited seasonally until its disappearance in the mid-eighteenth century.

The site’s main attraction is without a doubt the discoveries on the sides of the La Zorra and El Antrisco hills, where the indigenous carved their art on more than 4,000 rocks. Of these, Valadez and his colleagues have recorded and studied in detail more than 17,000 rock images which reflect a complex perspective of the natural environment and a cultural landscape very different to that predominating in the pre-Hispanic societies found in the rest of the country.

One of the first things visitors want to know is what the rock carvings mean. In reality the symbols are strange and complicated because of their great antiquity. It would appear that the rock carvings were made in a planned way with a ceremonial function in mind.

To make the symbols carved in rock more understandable, the archeologists invented a three-dimensional recording system with a very specific methodology, based on the position and orientation of each rock. The system consists of an installation of a portable grid upon that forms cubes measuring one meter on each side, which can expand in any direction, including on the vertical axis. The three-dimensional grid is oriented towards magnetic north, and then photographs are taken of each of the horizontal and vertical faces. The information gathered from the series of photographs and descriptions of the rock carvings is noted on data catalog sheets. Drawings are then prepared based on the photographs, as well as location maps of every rock and groups of similar rock carvings, so that spatial distributions can also be understood.

As well as being a very valuable tool for studying the rock art of the region, the three-dimensional grid system has been useful in the conservation and safeguarding of these valuable archeological remains. Knowing the exact location and condition of every rock makes it possible to tell if there is a rock carving missing or whether one has been defaced or damaged.

It has also been possible to collect 3,000 pieces of worked rock, bone and shell on the the river floodplain at the foot of the mountains mentioned previously. A detailed study of their forms has revealed their use as weapons, tools, utensils and as adornments. The scraping and cutting tools stand out. These are rough pieces which were used for jobs such as cutting hides, smoothing wood and carving vegetable fibers. The 7,000-year-old dart tips are also famous. Their production ceased close to 1,000 years ago. After that date much smaller arrowheads were made, and these continued to be used until the eighteenth century.

In terms of the principal tools, it is worth mentioning the milling and grinding stones, mortars and receptacles which were used to grind seeds, husks and plants used in the indigenous diet. The finds also include knives, axes, hammers, burins, awls and drills, together with objects with special uses such as earrings, beads, necklaces and small plaques with incised geometric designs and figures similar to the rock carvings. Finally the range also includes a few pottery, metal and glass objects.

Over the years a visiting strategy has been devised that is in harmony with the cultural remains. For this reason the facilities include access terraces, protective netting, outdoor and indoor signage, an exhibition gallery, conference room, walkways, a suspension bridge and garden areas with native plants.
  • “Boca,” or mouth, is the name that was given to the gap between two ranges of hills at the entrance to the Potrerillos Canyon. The site was named Boca de Potrerillos in the colonial period.
  • Boca de Potrerillos was recognized as an zone of archeological monuments by presidential decree in 2001, an honor not accorded to any other World Heritage rock art site in Mexico.
Bocana del Río CopalitaClose to Bahías de Huatulco, this site was a ceremonial center. It is located on the hills near the cliffs of the Oaxaca coast, within the Eco-Archeological Park, a wonderful natural setting.The Bocana del Río Copalita site lies six miles west of Santa Cruz Huatulco, in the district of San Pedro Pochutla, Oaxaca. It consists of a central area of 89 acres divided into a low mountainous or hilly region where the first pre-Hispanic settlement was founded, and another of alluvial soil which records the first stage of expansion and grandeur.

Archeological investigation of the site began in 1998, when strategies were proposed to protect and preserve it. The Research and Preservation Project for the Bocana del Río Copalita Archeological Site in Huatulco, Oaxaca has now completed nine seasons of archeological field and laboratory research.

As regards life in Copalita, It is calculated that Bocana del Río Copalita was already a substantial settlement by the Late Preclassic (400 BC to 200 AD), when its population occupied most of the natural elevations next to the sea and the mouth of the Copalita river. The social, religious and political structure of Copalita’s society was developed between the Late Preclassic and the beginning of the Early Classic. Its later complexity can be seen in the site’s lower region.

By approximately the end of the Early Classic (600 AD), the site had a plaza surrounded by several buildings and a Mesoamerican ballgame court. Copalita’s growth was tied to its nature as a civic-ceremonial center similar to other important Mesoamerican cities.

This stage of occupation extended into the Middle Late Classic, and we finally see signs of the place’s decline and abandonment in the Postclassic.

The civic and ceremonial structures and greatest concentration of residential terraces are located in the main settlement, which covers approximately 89 acres. As site explorations have concentrated on only some of the structures, there are therefore others which have not been uncovered and whose architectural characteristics are still unknown.

However, a certain outline can be distinguished that suggests a civic and ceremonial space of considerable size, made up of a series of temples, residences for the elite and a ballgame court, as well as terraces and residential units. It is important to mention that the site includes different stages of construction and different periods of occupation, and this is therefore an account of the existing architectural components within the site’s boundaries.

Five civic-ceremonial buildings are located in the zone of alluvial soils. The Acropolis indicates the outline of a plaza that was presumably open on its western side. Structure III (cemetery) lies to the north and Structure I is to the south. Both structures have yet to be excavated, although they do represent the Mesoamerican pattern of spaces of a ceremonial nature associated with the role of the ballcourt, which is located to the southwest of this area.

The site museum was inaugurated on October 5, 2010, when the Copalita archeological site was partially opened to the public.
BonampakIn the heart of the Lacandon jungle, Bonampak is famous for its extraordinary murals, which show scenes of war, paying tribute and the capture of prisoners for sacrifice.This little-known Mayan city is 1800 years old, and it reached its apogee between 600 and 800 AD. Its first few centuries were spent under the dominion of Piedras Negras and later Yaxchilán. The political, administrative and religious center of the city was never very large, but it was more spread out than other Mayan cities in the Usumacinta basin, owing to the capacity for agricultural production of its surrounding valley, which produced cacao as well basic foods. The city must have been segmented into several neighborhoods directed by members of the local aristocracy, who were responsible for collecting taxes for the governor.

Bonampak has a central plaza surrounded by not very tall religious, administrative and residential buildings. A stela in the plaza and others on the steps of the Acropolis demonstrate very fine workmanship. To the south of the Great Plaza, the impressively large Acropolis has a stepped base and is 150 feet high. All buildings that have Mayan vaults in the city are in this area, distributed on two levels, which are reached by broad stairways. On the first level there are three buildings, and the one on the right is reminiscent of the magnificent Building 33 at Yaxchilán on account of its shape and size. The local Lacandon people were amazed when they discovered the three rooms inside the Building of the Paintings, which had been abandoned many centuries earlier, and when they guided foreign visitors there for the first time one day in 1946, they too were stunned. The three rooms were, and still are, profusely decorated with mural paintings, some of the best conserved and revealing of ancient Mexico.

The artists Antonio Tejeda and Agustín Villagra made the first copies of the murals during the first three scientific expeditions to Bonampak by the Washington Carnegie Institution between 1946 and 1948. The task was hindered by the fact that the murals were hard to see as they were covered by a thick layer of carbonate salt deposits. The INAH restored the murals in 1984 after extensive and lengthy deliberation at national and international levels, to a large extent recovering their original bright colors.

New studies of the murals were carried out in the 1990s, one led by the Institute for Aesthetic Research of the National Autonomous University of Mexico which culminated in the publication of two volumes with complete photographs of the murals and another, led by Mary E. Miller of Yale University, which used photographs as the basis for a digital reconstruction of the murals. Since 2011 the INAH has begun a second restoration process, this time using modern methods, which enable us to see the room 3 murals in fine detail.

The Bonampak murals have recovered their vitality as a result of these processes. In the first room from left to right we observe a procession of priests and members of the nobility. The second features an important battle in which Chan Muwan II, the lord or "ajaw" of the city, defeated the previous governor with the support of Yaxchilán. The governor had attempted to maintain the neighboring city of Sak´ Tz´i´, and he was imprisoned with his captains in preparation for sacrifice. The final room shows a ceremony with dancers in resplendent dress, the family of the victorious lord and the lord himself practicing the self-sacrifice ritual of bleeding the tongue with obsidian knives.
  • Bonampak is the only archeological site in the Mayan world that has murals with such a high degree of conservation.
  • Remains of the same pictorial style are preserved in a building at Yaxchilán and another two in the small dependent towns of La Pasadita and El Tecolote, both in Guatemala. This indicates that this visual tradition was exported to Bonampak from Yaxchilán.
  • The murals are found inside Building 1 of Bonampak and occupy the entire walls of the three rooms. They cover an area of ​​1,205 square feet, over which 108 hieroglyphic clauses and 270 characters are distributed.
  • Although several of the characters appear multiple times in the murals of the three rooms, all the individuals depicted there present different clothes and decorations, which speaks of the wealth of clothing worn by the Mayan nobility.
  • At the beginning of the 20th century, Lacandón Kin, father of Kin Obregón, discovered the ruins that in 1946 would be baptized as Bonampak, or "painted walls."
  • It was revealed to the world by Charles Frey in 1946, who arrived in February of that year guided by his friend José Pepe Chambor, and accompanied by the millionaire John Bourne and several gum farmers.
  • Giles Healey is credited with being the first Westerner to see the murals in the Building of the Paintings in June of the same year. However, it is probable that Frey had seen them and, to protect his Lacandon friends from the arrival of thousands of tourists, kept the discovery to himself.
Cacaxtla - XochitécatlCacaxtla was a powerful political, military and commercial center that developed in the present-day states of Puebla and Tlaxcala. This site contains some of Mesoamerica’s most extraordinary and well-preserved murals. Xochitecatl's legacy is the unique Pyramid of the Flowers and a remarkable set of terracotta female figurines.


This city was founded in the distant past by the Olmeca-Xicalanca people, but only rose to dominance after the collapse of Teotihuacan and Cholula. Following the decline of the latter, Cacaxtla assumed political control over what is now the Puebla-Tlaxcala region. Cacaxtla flourished between 650-900 AD, during the Late Classic, a period when it established trade links with the Gulf coast and the Valley of Mexico. It acquired great wealth by taking advantage of its strategic location along routes leading to the territories of the modern-day states of Tabasco and Campeche. The site was abandoned in around the year 1000, for reasons that remain uncertain.

Research by the National Institute of Anthropology and History (INAH) began at the site after it was discovered in the 1970s. The Gran Basamento ("Great Plinth"), measuring 656 feet long and 82 feet high, is one of the most outstanding archeological remains. This large complex of superimposed and interconnected structures (shrines, platforms and pyramids) boasts remarkable mural paintings—made using red, blue, yellow, black and white pigments obtained from kaolin, obsidian, lime and other local minerals—which are truly one-of-a-kind. These murals reveal influences from both the Mayan and Teotihuacan regions and depict motifs related to mythology, religion, war, defeat and peace; there are also highly realistic drawings of nature with symbolic features that have yet to be completely deciphered. The ancient inhabitants’ system of building structures on top of each other has preserved not only the ritual offerings but also these valuable paintings. In the 1980s, an enormous roof, spanning more than 100,000 square feet, was erected over the most important section of the Great Plinth in order to provide protection from the elements.


Just over three miles from Cacaxtla and developed mainly between 600 and 100 BC, Xochitecatl was a short-lived ceremonial center for the Olmeca and Xicalanca people. Built on top of the Xochitecatl hill, the architecture was adapted to the hilly terrain with terraces created for houses and land for growing crops. The most important monuments are located on top of the hill: the Pirámide de las Flores ("Pyramid of the Flowers"), the Pirámide de la Serpiente ("Pyramid of the Serpent"), the Pirámide de la Espiral ("Pyramid of the Spiral") and the Basamento de los Volcanes ("Plinth of the Volcanoes").

Xochitecatl is distinguished by the numerous figurines of women depicted as pregnant, giving birth, carrying a child, or with a cavity in their stomach into which a baby could be inserted or taken out. Scholars agree that the ritual setting, the offerings of figurines, human burial sites, and archeo-astronomical features all suggest that the site was a ceremonial center based on a fertility and rainmaking cult, the symbols of which seem to have been conveyed through the female image.

  • In the sixteenth century, a chronicler named Muñoz Camargo described the Valley of Tlaxcala for the first time, making this the earliest reference to Cacaxtla-Xochitecatl.
  • For 400 years the Cacaxtla-Xochitecatl area was uninhabited as a result of the Popocatépetl volcano’s eruptions, which altered the Puebla-Tlaxcala valley’s ecosystem.
  • The murals in this area make reference to astronomical symbols, discourses of legitimization, trade contacts, religious traditions, regional domination, lake fishing, and fertility.

  • The Map of Cuauhtinchan no. 2 shows the Xochitecatl glyph as a mountain with flowers at its highest point.
  • The beautiful figurines of women show their headdresses and clothes, as well as their facial pigmentations.
  • Key archeological finds include ornaments made of shell, copper and bone, as well as ceramic pieces of various shapes and designs, complete with an outstanding use of different colors.
CalakmulOne of the largest cities in the Maya region, Calakmul is dotted by 120 stelae amid the monumental structures and pyramids. It is located in the second-largest natural reserve in the Americas, and was listed as a UNESCO Mixed World Heritage site in 2014.

Inhabited since the very distant past, from around 2000 BC, Calakmul developed into the most important city of the Mayan lowlands between the years 250 BC and 700 AD. No other Maya city located in the territory of modern-day Mexico had such great significance. It challenged and defeated Tikal, the principal city of the vast region covering the southern Yucatan peninsula and northern Guatemala, before eventually being defeated by the same rival early in the eighth century AD. After a long period of decline, Calakmul was abandoned and the jungle engulfed its plazas and wrapped itself around the city’s palaces, altars and temples. The inhabitants dispersed and formed new towns, or joined other settlements.

The archeological site of Calakmul covers an area of 27 square miles and contains more than 6,000 structures. At its peak, it ruled over a territory measuring 5,000 square miles. In the early sixteenth century, a Spanish conquistador and explorer, Alonso de Ávila, discovered the ruins of Calakmul and other Maya sites of the Classic period in the area known today as Campeche: he found them abandoned and overrun by dense tropical vegetation. He also observed that the local indigenous people would occasionally visit some parts of the city for ritual purposes.

Five centuries later, the biologist Cyrus Lundell rediscovered the site in 1931 and passed on information the following year to the famous US researcher, Sylvanus G. Morley, who visited it with a particular interest in the glyphs on the stelae. Another 50 years would pass before a team of archeologists from the Autonomous University of Campeche and the INAH finally started excavations and began to reveal the site’s remarkable history.

In the sixth century AD, the territory of the ancient Maya consisted of some 60 provinces. A handful of these groups were eager to rule over a majority: Tikal achieved this control through the use of force; Calakmul also subjugated other communities, initially through diplomacy, trade, and dynastic alliances, and ultimately also through the use of weapons. Epic clashes took place between both of these powerful city-states: Calakmul was initially victorious—and became capital of Cuchcabal or the “Kingdom of the Serpent’s Head”—in 562 AD. Tikal later regrouped, formed new alliances, and defeated its enemy in 695. This led to Calakmul’s decline and ultimately its demise. The latest date found on a stela at the site gives the year 909. However, other Maya settlements of the Classic period did not survive either; some were eclipsed in the ninth century or disappeared over the course of the following century. This was the period when Maya civilization is understood to have collapsed.

The success in deciphering the Maya hieroglyphs, which owes so much to the groundbreaking work of the Russian scholar Yuri V. Knorosov (1922-1999), made it possible to reconstruct parts of this history. Calakmul is the Maya city with the largest number of stelae, with 120 in total; these recount the lives and deeds of kings, queens, princes and captains. Other allied or enemy cities confirm, or further specify, this information on their own stelae. The names and partial history of 18 kings of Calakmul have thus been revealed, such as the “Coiled Serpent” (Uneh Chan, 579-611 AD), “Yuknom the Great” (636-686 AD) and “Jaguar Claw” (Yich’ak K’aak’, 686-698 AD). We also now know that Calakmul had an emblem-glyph to indicate the extent of its territory (a serpent’s head) and two toponyms to refer to the center of the city: Ox Te Tun (“three stones”, in possible allusion to a mythical primordial fire), and Chiik Naab (“house of the water lily”).

The archeological site of Calakmul contains five large complexes linked to the Grand Central Plaza, and these are interconnected by ancient roads known as “sacbes." The monumental Structure II is located on the south side of the Plaza—this is the second-highest Maya pyramid (at 180 feet high), after the one in Toniná, Chiapas. On the north side is Structure VII, with Structures III, IV and VI to the east, each one impressive and built to last in the Petén style. Some of the stelae date from the early period (400 BC) and others correspond to the period when the city flourished. They are veritable jewels of Maya art and contain a diversity of texts and accounts of the society that created them.

The Calakmul Biosphere Reserve was established in 1989. In 1993, it was registered as part of the UNESCO’s Man and the Biosphere Programme. In 2002, Calakmul was listed as a World Heritage Site by the same organization, and this designation was broadened in 2014 to become a Mixed Natural and Cultural Heritage Site.

  • This ancient Maya city is located in the Calakmul Biosphere Reserve, the second largest in the Americas.
  • The Calakmul Natural History and Archeology Museum, located at km 20 along the road that traverses the jungle to the archeological site, gives a complete overview of the area’s prehistory, natural diversity and archeological finds.
CalicaOn the land of a modern industrial quarry, various settlements dating back to 300 BC were discovered. Most notable is the Casa Azul (Blue House), with a splendid mural about the Maya cosmos, the “P” group of Xcaret and the Temple of the Columns.


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