The Pacunam Foundation (Mayan Cultural and Natural Heritage), an international consortium of archaeologists and researchers, has revealed to the world a news that has moved the scholars and that promises to rewrite the pre-Columbian history of Guatemala: the discovery, in an area of 2,144 square kilometers of Tikal –Petén department, north of the country-, of more than 60,000 structures, monumental buildings, 105 kilometers of roads, a complex system of channels for water distribution and up to 59 kilometers of defensive walls.
The finding is the result of years of work by teams of archaeologists, mostly Americans and Guatemalans, over the past two years, and opens the door to investigations of hitherto unknown places, groups of surveillance structures and a fortified citadel. that changes the perceptions of the experts on the way in which the Maya practiced war. Traditionally, the official history described the Mayan civilization as peaceful and dedicated primarily to astronomy and mathematics, as an example the Mayan calendar (lunar and as precise as the Gregorian calendar that governs us), or the discovery of the abstract concept of zero.
But the latest discoveries force a reinterpretation of History, to its rewriting, comments to El Pais the Doctor in History, José Cal, professor at the University of San Calos. To begin with, he says, we must analyze a new population density and a much greater social complexity. "This completely changes the analysis of human settlements in the whole area, their social, economic, political and religious life," he points out, while stressing that the existence of defensive walls ends up burying the idyllic view of the Maya as a people essentially peaceful. "They were peoples who fought among themselves and where there were power relations, with internal struggles."
One of Pacuman's experts, the archaeologist Edwin Roman, recalls that the traditional theory suggests that the Mayan wars had a ritual character: the capture of prisoners to be sacrificed to the gods. "The new discoveries indicate that the war was much more frequent", and adds that this would have been one of the causes for the abandonment of the big cities, but not the only one. "We know that they were abandoned due to a combination of factors, such as prolonged droughts that are decisive in an agricultural society in a hostile environment."
In this assessment coincides archaeologist Bernard Hermes, who in a telephone conversation from Petén points out that the greatest impact of these discoveries is the new vision of the history of pre-Columbian Guatemala. "It changes the perspectives of how the Mayan culture developed. It will oblige the reinterpretation of certain aspects of History, such as demography, and allows the knowledge of new archaeological sites. It is a gigantic work that, surely, will surpass the capacities of the Government ", it emphasizes.
"This mapping, obtained thanks to the advanced technology of NASA, will allow us to understand in its proper dimension the importance of the Mayan civilization, particularly in aspects such as the management of the environment and its interactions, including war" comments the president of the Foundation Pacunam, Marianne Hernández. "It has generated an extreme interest on a world scale to understand the Mayan civilization. Now we can see, in all its complexity, a civilization that, until now, was at a disadvantage compared to other cultures, "he concludes. Traditional history has always placed Tikal as the epicenter of Mayan culture. The new perspective that emerges from these new findings places it as "a ceremonial center of the first order, with a very important function as an astronomical observatory, but not the only one", in the words of Cal, who stresses that this new reality will be decisive in the approach to the rewriting of national history.
The journalist Carlos Tárano, with studies in archeology at the National School of Anthropology and History of Mexico, describes the role of Tikal in the history of the Maya as "fundamental". "It was, with Calakmul, in the Current Campeche (Mexico), and with Caracol (now Belize), one of the three great Mayan cities of the Classic period ". Each one of them exercised, for long periods, an absolute dominion over the Petén territory, reason why they competed, with Tikal as enemy to overcome. "Tikal", He adds," is key first because of its antiquity (some 500 years before Christ) and because it collects the most representative monuments of the Classic Maya period and because it was always one of the largest cities that, with the new discoveries, receives a enormous dimension, of more than 100,000 inhabitants ".
"Tikal represents the culmination of a long process of economic, political, social and religious development. Its construction spanned centuries, between the years 600 and 900 of our era and has a large number of monuments, stelae, which are dedicated to tell the story of the rulers or commemorate important historical events, "says El Pais the archaeologist Edgar Carpio. Geographically, he adds, Tikal was a strategic point through which the trade routes to the highlands of Guatemala and to present-day Mexico passed: "It was not an isolated city nor was it unique."
This series of recent discoveries puts Guatemala before the challenge of studying in depth a new reality, while protecting the cultural treasure that comes with the plunderers of pre-Columbian treasures, one of the great shortcomings of the Central American country.