Archaeologists in Guatemala believe they have discovered a hidden “message” in the legendary Mayan city of Tikal.
The compound includes a pyramid, a tomb, and miscellaneous items indicative of Teotihuacan, a rival city-state located hundreds of miles away in Mexico.
It was recently discovered thanks to airborne laser scans that were able to penetrate centuries of dirt and jungle growth
The result suggests that Teotihuacan, who conquered Tikal in the late 4th century, once got along well with his rival in order to establish a diplomatic base there.
At a press conference last week in Guatemala, researchers exchanged laser images of Tikal showing the remains of buildings hidden beneath the jungle
In 2018, researchers from the Foundation for the Cultural and Natural Heritage of the Maya (PACUNAM) scanned the region around Tikal from the sky using LiDAR (Light Detection And Ranging) technology.
LiDAR is able to pierce the dense forest canopy that has grown over the centuries since the fall of Tikal and find the remains of buildings hidden by trees and earth.
Archaeologists have found that Tikal, with millions more inhabitants, was much larger than previously thought.
A picture from the southern part of the city clearly showed a pyramid with an enclosed courtyard lined with smaller structures beneath mounds that were originally believed to be just mounds.
The structures in Tikal appear to be part of a complex that was almost a replica of the Citadel, a complex in the rival city-state of Teotihuacan. Pictured: One of the pyramids in the citadel
Edwin Román-Ramírez, director of the South Tikal Archaeological Project, began excavating the site last summer and discovered that the structures were made of earth and stucco, materials that the Maya did not use in construction.
And instead of looking like typical Mayan architecture, the buildings were almost identical to those in Teotihuacan, a rival city-state more than 600 miles away in what is now Mexico City.
Before the Teotihuacan captured Tikal in 378, they may have been allies. Pictured: Temple of the Great Jaguar in Tikal
Rainforest trees have obscured much of the Mayan city of Tikal, which peaked between AD 200 and 900
Brown University archaeologist Stephen Houston told National Geographic the complex is a half-size replica of the Citadel, a massive Teotihuacan development that includes the six-tiered pyramid known as the Temple of Quetzalcoatl, the Feathered Serpent.
“The likeness of the details was breathtaking,” said Houston.
Items typical of Teotihuacan from the early 4th century have been found on the site, including arrows made of green obsidian and carvings of the rain god Teotihuacan.
They also found a Teotihuacan-style funeral.
At a press conference last week, Edwin Román-Ramírez, director of the South Tikal Archaeological Project, said the discovery had proven that people who were from Teotihuacán or were closely associated with the Teotihuacán culture also lived in Tikal.
The compound found at Tical contained a half-size model of the temple of Quetzalcoatl, the feathered serpent (pictured) in Teotihuacan
Presentation of images of the Teotihuacan style citadel uncovered in Tikal
“We knew that before 378 the Teotihuacanos had at least some presence and influence in Tikal and the nearby Maya areas,” Román-Ramírez told National Geographic.
“But it was not clear whether the Maya were merely imitating aspects of the most powerful kingdom in the region. Now there is evidence that the relationship was much more than that. ‘
Some experts have suggested that the site is an ancient Teotihuacan embassy, from a time when the two societies had a more cordial relationship.
A 5th century structure from Tikal that illustrates the influence of Teotihuacan who had conquered it a century earlier
In January 378, the Teotihuacan King Spearthrower Owl sent forces under his General Born of Fire to Tikal.
WHO WERE THE MAYANS?
The Maya civilization flourished in Central America for nearly 3,000 years, peaking between AD 250 and AD 900.
Known as the only fully developed written language in pre-Columbian America, the Mayans also had sophisticated art and architecture, as well as complex mathematical and astronomical systems.
During their prime, they built incredible cities with advanced machines and developed advanced farming methods.
Believing that the cosmos shaped their daily lives, the Maya used astrological cycles to determine when plants should be grown and their calendars set.
This has led to theories that the Maya may have chosen to locate their cities in accordance with the stars.
The Mayan influence can be found in Honduras, Guatemala and in the west of El Salvador and as far as central Mexico.
The Mayans never disappeared: today, their descendants form sizable populations across Central America.
They cultivate a distinctive set of traditions and beliefs that are the result of the merging of pre-Columbian and post-conquering cultures.
Tikal’s King Jaguar Paw died the same day the young son of Spearthrower Owl was installed as king of the rival city-state.
Tikal’s architecture and art showed Teotihuacan influences until the fifth century, but the replica citadel was built around AD 300.
If so, the “embassy” theory suggests that diplomatic relations deteriorated and hostilities broke out between the two societies.
The idea is supported by the discovery of a compound that points to the Maya recently found in the heart of Teotihuacan
The building’s walls were adorned with colorful Mayan-style murals according to scientific reports, but they were eventually torn to pieces and buried – right at the time that Tikal was being overtaken.
The researchers hope that further excavation and analysis of human remains in the Tikal burial chamber will provide more information on what purpose the compound served.
The Maya civilization peaked between AD 250 and 900 when it controlled large parts of what is now southern Mexico, Guatemala, Belize, and Honduras.
It ended with the arrival of Hernán Cortés and the Spanish conquerors in the 16th century.
In March, archaeologists announced the discovery of a site in El Palmar, Mexico, and the remains of a senior Mayan diplomat who lived 1,300 years ago.
His name is Ajpach ‘Waal and is said to have been instrumental in forging an unlikely alliance between two powerful dynasties.
His body was found in a tomb in a temple with a staircase leading to a ceremonial platform.
There were some hieroglyphs on the stairs showing that Ajpach ‘Waal had traveled to Honduras in AD 726 to enable a treaty between the rival kings of Copán and Calakmul.
Like many parts of the Mayan Empire, El Palmar was eventually abandoned and recaptured by the jungle.