Pyramidal structures, palace remains, ballgame courts, plazas and sculpted monuments have been uncovered in the Mexican jungle, revealing one the largest sites in the Central Maya Lowlands.
Named Chactún, meaning “Red Stone” or “Great Stone,” the previously unknown Mayan city covers more than 54 acres in the southeastern state of Campeche.
According to Mexico’s National Institute of Anthropology and History (INAH), its vast size suggests the city was a seat of government between 600 and 900 A.D.
Hidden for centuries in the jungle on the north of the Calakmul Biosphere Reserve, Chactún is part of an area covering more than 1,150 square miles.
That region has remained a “total blank” on the Mayan archaeological map, Slovenian archaeologist Ivan Sprajc said.
Starting from 1996, the Archaeological Reconnaissance Project in Southeastern Campeche identified 80 sites using large-scale aerial photography, but Chactún was largely ignored.
More recently, the photographs of the northern part of the Calakmul Biosphere Reserve were examined.
“We found many features that were obviously architectural remains,” Sprajc said.
Getting to the site wasn’t a easy task — the archaeologists led by Sprajc had to make their way through the tropical forest by cutting vegetation along a long abandoned lumberers’ trail.
They found a site rich with buildings, plazas and pyramidal structures, with the tallest one measuring more than 75 feet.
“We realized, with big surprise, that the site was even larger than we had expected. What impressed us most were the volumes of the buildings — they are not extremely high, but very massive,” Sprajc told Discovery News.
Consisting of three monumental complexes standing in the west, southeast and northeast, the site featured a large number of stelae (tall sculpted stone shafts) and altars (low circular stones).
Sprajc and his team named the city after one of the 19 stelae recovered so far.
According to a preliminary interpretation by epigrapher Octavio Esparza Olguin from the National Autonomous University of Mexico, the inscription says that the ruler K’inich B’ahlam “erected the Red Stone (or Great) in 751.”
Many of these inscribed stones were reused in later times, possibly in the late Late Classic and even Early Postclassic periods.
“These people may not have known the meaning of the monuments, as some of the stelae were found upside down,” Esparza said.
“Though they knew they were important and worshiped them: we found ceramic offerings in front of some of them,” he added.
Another sculpted stone was found at a corner in the ball game court of the southeastern complex.
“This reuse of monuments is another intriguing aspect of this site. It’s something which we have not found evidence for elsewhere,” Sprajc said.
Image: Archaeologist Ivan Sprajc explores the newly discovered Mayan city. Credit: INAH