El Mirador, hidden in the northern of province of El Petén, Guatemala for 2,000 years.
I. Mesoamerican Guatemala
At first glance, modern Guatemala is an unlikely place to find the ancient, lost legacy of the ancient Mayan people. This is for two reasons. Number one, Guatemala is at what was once presumed to be the extreme south of the ancient Mayan empire - an empire that stretched out across the Yucatan Peninsula encompassing Guatemala, Honduras, Belize and southern Mexico.
Number two, starting in 1518 AD, the Spanish Empire re-made the entire country into their own image nearly 500 years ago destroying ancient monuments and history along the way.
When the Spanish Empire was finished conquering Guatemala, they forever changed the native people and their customs transforming the country into a European model while draining the it of it's identity as well as it's silver and gold. Both were used to fuel Spanish wars and swell the ranks of their rising empire.
What could remain today from Mesoamerican culture after a spiritual and economic decimation that was fully realized hundreds of years ago?
Only the impenetrable Central American rain forests in the unexplored, wild lowlands could hold long lost answers and keep these secrets for thousands of years. The jungle alone would shelter the roots of the Mayan culture while the Spanish Empire rose and fell. It also managed to hold these secrets while Guatemala fell into the chaos of civil war after the Spanish left in 1829 AD after a 300 year rule.
The jungle held these secrets until modern archeologists, led by Dr. Richard Hansen Senior Scientist at the Institute for Mesoamerican Research from the Department of Anthropology of Idaho State University, began an exhaustive campaign of discovery in the northern province of El Petén that started with recovering the ancient Mayan capital in 2008.
II. The Lost Jungle Empire
Six-hundred years before the rise of the Spanish Empire in Central America in the 16th Century, the Mayans were the unquestioned rulers of much of Mexico and Central America for thousands of years. Recent discoveries made by Dr. Hansen suggest that they ruled from Pre-Columbian northern Guatemala.
From near modern El Petén, the Mayans established a civilization that began in 2000 BC while Stonehenge rose in England and the first horses were being tamed in Europe.
By 600 BC, the Maya had developed the world's first highways, monumental architecture, massive urban planning, agriculture and even turkey farming used to feed massive populations of priests, warriors and peasants.
These Maya, identified by Dr. Hansen as "The Kingdom of the Snake" or "Lords Of Kan" ("kan" being the Mayan word for snake) were extraordinary in their complexity and depth of knowledge yet were utterly wiped out before the first Conquistadores landed in the New World.
What happened to such a large, sophisticated civilization? Why were their monuments so remarkably intact 2400 years after they disappeared? What caused what has been called "The Classic Maya Collapse"?
To attempt to answer such a question we must first understand the ancient history of this region.
Traditionally, archaeologists have divided the history of Central America into three distinct periods. They are: The Pre-Classic period from 2000 BC to 250 BC, the Classic period from 250 AD to 900 AD and the Calistic Period from 900 AD to 1500 AD.
The last period, the Calistic, encompasses a time that begins with the end of the Mayan culture and ends with the dissolution of the Aztecas. The Aztecas, as a recognized historical fact, were wiped out by the arrival of the Spanish in 1518. But could the Aztecas themselves have been responsible for the end the Mayas in 900 AD at the start of the Calistic Period?
In 2008, modern archeologists made an incredible and shocking find in the dense jungle canopy that may provide more answers to this question. This is a new find that archeologists, including experts at the Smithsonian, believe was once the capital of the Mayan world, the lost city of El Mirador - once home to over 200,000 ancient people from the year 700 BC to 900 AD.
III. Ancient Site, Modern Purpose
El Mirador, meaning "observation point" in Spanish, is theorized to have been the heart of a huge Mayan metropolis. The city flourished in the late Pre-Classic period near 300 BC and reached a possible population of 200,000 people by it's sudden end in 900 AD.
To add to this theory's credibility, in 1995 Dr. James O’Kon published a paper that suggested that the Usamacinta River, nearby to El Mirador in Yaxchilán, was the site of the world's largest ancient bridge. Dr. O'Kon also suggested this was in fact a brick-and-mortar suspension bridge. This innovation was built 1300 years before the Brooklyn Bridge between 700 AD - 500 AD. The massive bridge would have served the Maya in transporting warriors and farmers from the nearby north western city of Yaxchilán to El Peten. Soldiers and merchants from across the country would have had a clear route to and from the Mayan capital providing long-term security and sustenance.
Yet this highway could have also contributed in aiding the Mayan's arch-enemies as well. Obsidian arrowheads and spear tips, that originate near Mexico City hundreds of miles away in ancient Aztec territory, dot the landscape around El Tigre pyramid complex inside of El Mirador.
These remarkably well-preserved weapons also contain DNA evidence about the battles that took place in the city. Researchers are currently analyzing this evidence that they indicate appear to come from two sources - Mayan and Aztec.
This discovery suggests that El Mirador was the site of a ferocious battle inside it's city walls against it's fiercest enemy. It is inconclusive at this point if the Aztecas destroyed the Maya in their capital in 900 AD but the evidence is mounting.
A variety of possible factors have also been identified as contributing to the end of the Maya including ecological collapse, natural catastrophe, drought, disease, cultural evolution, internal revolt, overpopulation or a combination of these factors.
The remaining populations that abandoned cities like El Mirador moved north into the upper Yucatan Peninsula in modern Mexico.
Today, Dr. Hansen is continuing to uncover sprawling plazas, temple structures and ancient monuments. Yet, Dr. Hansen's effort are at risk due to the fighting of drug cartels who discourage research and tourism and local cattle barons who continue to slash-and-burn the forests surrounding the El Mirador Basin.
Wikipedia, El Mirador
Wikipedia, History Of Geatemala
Wonder Mundo, El Mirador, An Ancient Maya Metropolis
Smithsonian Magazine, El Mirador The Lost City Of The Maya
Google Maps, El Mirador Location Site