The current research is sponsored by the PACUNAM LiDAR Initiative, which used revolutionary technology in 2018 to digitally remove the tree canopy from aerial images to reveal the vast ruins of a complex pre-Columbian civilisation more interconnected than Maya scholars had previously supposed.
What looked like just another hill dotting the swelling landscape of the ancient Maya city-state of Tikal in what is now northern Guatemala has been revealed to be hiding an ancient monument, according to Edwin Román Ramírez, an archaeologist at the Foundation for Maya Cultural and Natural Heritage (PACUNAM).
Ramírez announced the find at a press conference hosted by PACUNAM and Guatemala’s Institute of Anthropology and History on 8 April 2021.
Amazingly, the discovery was made within one of the most extensively excavated archaeological sites on Earth, as archaeologists zoomed in on an aerial image of the mound in 2018 using laser scanning equipment called “Light Detection And Ranging”, LiDAR.
Back in 2018 the revolutionary technology had allowed scholars to embark on a “major breakthrough” after the ruins of more than 60,000 houses and palaces were unveiled after being shrouded for centuries in the jungles of northern Guatemala.
The laser laid bare the shape of a human-made structure –a pyramid – hidden under centuries of accumulated soil and vegetation. Furthermore, it was discovered to be part of an ancient layout that also included a large enclosed courtyard with smaller buildings around it.
It was not just the discovery in itself that stunned experts, but rather the fact that they were quite different from any others found at Tikal. The uncovered complex resembled the citadel at Teotihuacan, located more than 600 miles away, in what is now Mexico City.
Using the LiDAR images, Edwin Román-Ramírez, the director of the South Tikal Archaeological Project, launched a series of excavations in the summer of 2020.
Artefacts discovered by his team ranged from Teotihuacan-style weapons, some made from green obsidian from central Mexico, to incense burners and carvings of Teotihuacan’s rain god. A burial with Teotihuacan-style offerings in the pyramid offered more tell-tale clues to the purpose of the site.
This digital 3D image provided by Guatemala’s Mayan Heritage and Nature Foundation, PACUNAM, shows a depiction of the Mayan archaeological site at Tikal in Guatemala created using LiDAR aerial mapping technology. Researchers announced Thursday, Feb. 1, 2018, that using a high-tech aerial mapping technique they have found tens of thousands of previously undetected Mayan houses, buildings, defense works and roads in the dense jungle of Guatemala’s Peten region, suggesting that millions more people lived there than previously thought
Ceramics discovered inside the pyramid have been dated to around 300 A.D., nearly 100 years before Teotihuacan is estimated to have invaded Tikal, in 378 A.D.
According to Maya inscriptions, Teotihuacan’s king sent a general to topple Tikal’s king, and installed his young son as its new ruler.
From Diplomacy to Violence
The question that archaeologists immediately faced after the discovery was the intriguing mystery of why an enclave of Teotihuacan was located in the heart of a Maya capital.
Meanwhile, a team led by Nawa Sugiyama, an archaeologist at the University of California, Riverside, discovered an elite Maya compound with smashed and buried murals in Teotihuacan. The luxurious nature of the finds suggests that the residents may have been nobility or diplomats. Nearby, a pit filled with shattered human skeletons was found.
Temple of the Warriors, Chichén Itzá, Yucatan, Mexico
According to archaeologists, the discovery of what are referred to as ‘mirror-image’ sites suggests the possibility that embassies staffed with diplomats had existed in the two cities prior to the invasion, with some incident having triggered a shift from diplomacy to violence.
While radiocarbon dating of the Tikal structure has been delayed due to the ongoing coronavirus pandemic, as well as a pending isotopic analysis of bones found in a burial chamber. The further studies may offer more conclusive evidence as to where the deceased lived at different times during their lifetime.
The new discoveries have been hailed by experts as possibly holding the key to solving the riddle of what went wrong in the relationship between Teotihuacan and Tikal that made the former take over its former ally.
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