2,000-year-old lost ‘kingdom’ found in Guatemala

Researchers discovered an ancient Mayan kingdom from 2,000 years ago in northern Guatemala, a new study shows.

Researchers discovered an ancient Mayan kingdom from 2,000 years ago in northern Guatemala, a new study shows.

Cambridge University Press.

An ancient Mayan kingdom from some 2,000 years ago was discovered buried in northern Guatemala, researchers say.

Archaeologists uncovered nearly 1,000 ancient Mayan settlements in the Mirador-Calakmul Karst Basin and surrounding ridge. In these settlements they identified 417 cities, towns and villages that existed in the period between 1,000 BC and 100 AD, according to a study published online Dec. 5 by the Cambridge University Press.

Using LiDAR technology, — a remote sensing method that generates three-dimensional images and information about the Earth’s surface, according to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration — researchers determined that the settlements comprised a more sophisticated and interconnected kingdom.

Archaeologists said their findings show a highly-functional state-level kingdom “connected by causeways, forming a web of implied social, political, and economic interactions” and “that required vast amounts of labor and resources, amassed by a presumably centralized organization and administration .”

Here are some of their findings.

Ball courts

Within the web of settlements, archaeologists uncovered a total of 30 ball courts, the study said.

The courts, which were around 30 to 65 feet in length, typically were composed of “two parallel structures, often in a north-south axis,” researchers said.

At one of the bigger sites, El Mirador, seven courts were discovered: three small and four large. The larger courts are located in the site’s Great Central Acropolis, indicating what might have been the ruler’s seat of power.

Water control: reservoirs and dams

The new discoveries also granted researchers greater insight into the extent to which ancient civilizations controlled their water sources.

Civilizations in the Mirador-Calakmul Karst Basin relied on surrounding marshes as their sources for water, creating a need for reservoirs to retain water, researchers said. The LiDAR data revealed 195 artificial reservoirs as well as “a series of monumental reservoir systems designed for large water capture and control.”

Several dams were also discovered within the kingdom.

Causeways: a “crowning achievement”

Described as a “crowning achievement,” a branching system of inter- and intra-site causeways existed within the Mayan kingdom, indicating “intracommunity connectivity and integration,” researchers said.

Most of the system’s causeways were built with lime and clay mixtures that required significant labor.

A system of causeways connected different settlements within the kingdom, research shows. Cambridge University Press.

The new findings revealed that most causeways were centered in El Mirador, the largest civilization in the kingdom, which suggests “an administrative centralization,” according to researchers. The system also points towards the development of political and economic systems as a result of an authority.

Architecture: pyramids and e-grounds

The new findings also revealed the existence of intricate architectural structures across the kingdom.

E-groups, used for rituals and ceremonies, consist of a number of structures, typically a pyramid opposite a platform flanking a bigger plaza. These groups were found in a number of the kingdom’s settlements, ranging in size depending on the complexity of the settlement, researchers said.

Some smaller settlements consisted of little more than an e-group, researchers said. Cambridge University Press.

Settlements also contained triadic architecture, typically pyramids.

The complex structures and building materials used to erect these pyramids are indicative of the organization within ancient settlements, researchers said.

One pyramid, located at the center of El Mirador, is estimated to have required 5 years of consistent labor from 158 workers. “The entire building could have had as much as 6,000,000 to 10,000,000 person-days of labor,” researchers said.

Moira Ritter covers real-time news for McClatchy. She is a graduate of Georgetown University where she studied government, journalism and German. Previously, she reported for CNN Business.


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