Guatemala’s archaeologists believe they have discovered an “embassy” hidden in the legendary Mayan city of Tikal.
The complex includes a pyramid, a burial site, and various artefacts pointing to Teotihuacan, a rival city-state hundreds of miles away in Mexico.
It was recently discovered through aerial laser scans that could pierce through centuries of dirt and jungle growth.
The discovery suggests that Teotihuacan, who conquered Tikal at the end of the 4th century, was once on good terms with his rival to build a diplomatic base there.
At a press conference last week, Guatemalan researchers shared laser images of Tikal, showing the remains of buildings hidden under the jungle.
In 2018, researchers from the Foundation for Mayan Cultural and Natural Heritage (PACUNAM) scanned the region around Tikal from the sky using light sensing and distance technology, or LiDAR.
LiDAR is able to pierce the dense canopy that has developed over the centuries since the fall of Tikal and find the remains of buildings hidden by trees and soil.
Archaeologists were able to determine that Tikal was much larger than previously thought, with millions more inhabitants.
An image of the southern part of the city clearly showed a pyramid with an enclosed courtyard lined with smaller structures under mounds that were originally just hills.
Tikal’s structures appear to be part of a complex that was a near-replica of the Citadel, a complex in the rival city-state Teotihuacan. In the photo: one of the pyramids of the citadel
Edwin Román-Ramírez, director of the South Tikal Archaeological Project, began excavation at the site last summer and discovered that the structures were made of earth and stucco, materials the Mayans did not use in construction.
And instead of looking like typical Mayan architecture, the buildings were almost identical to those found in Teotihuacan, a rival city-state more than 600 miles away in present-day Mexico City.
Before the Teotihuacan conquered 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 that the complex appeared to be a half-size replica of “the Citadel,” a massive development in Teotihuacan that includes the six-level pyramid known as the temple of Quetzalcoatl, the feathered serpent.
“The similarity of the details was astounding,” Houston said.
Typical Teotihuacan artefacts from the early 4th century have been found at the site, including green obsidian darts and sculptures of the rain god Teotihuacan.
They also found a Teotihuacán-style burial.
At a press conference last week, Edwin Román-Ramírez, director of the South Tikal Archaeological Project, said the find “proved that people who were from Teotihuacán or people closely associated with the Teotihuacán culture also lived in Tikal ”.
The compound found at Tical included a half-size model of the temple of Quetzalcoatl, the feathered serpent (pictured), at Teotihuacan
Presentation of images of the Teotihuacan style “Citadel” discovered in Tikal
“We knew that the Teotihuacanos had at least some presence and influence in Tikal and neighboring Mayan regions before 378,” Román-Ramírez told National Geographic.
But it was not clear whether the Mayans were simply imitating aspects of the region’s most powerful kingdom. Now, there is evidence that the relationship was much more than that.
Some experts have speculated that the complex was a former Teotihuacan embassy, at a time when the two companies enjoyed a more cordial relationship.
A 5th century structure from Tikal illustrating the influence of Teotihuacan, who had conquered it a century earlier
In January 378, the king of Teotihuacan, the spear thrower, sent forces under the command of his general Born of Fire, to Tikal.
WHO WERE THE MAYANS?
The Mayan civilization flourished in Central America for almost 3,000 years, reaching its peak between AD 250 and 900.
Known for the only fully developed written language in the pre-Columbian Americas, the Mayans also had highly advanced art and architecture, as well as complex mathematical and astronomical systems.
During their prime, they built amazing cities using advanced machinery and developing advanced farming methods.
The Mayans believed the cosmos shaped their daily lives and used astrological cycles to determine when to plant crops and establish their calendars.
This has led to theories that the Mayans may have chosen to locate their cities in line with the stars.
Mayan influence can be detected in Honduras, Guatemala and western El Salvador, and as far as central Mexico.
The Mayans never disappeared: today, their descendants form large populations throughout Central America.
They maintain a distinctive set of traditions and beliefs that are the result of the fusion of pre-Columbian and post-conquest cultures.
The King of Tikal, Jaguar Paw, died on the same day that Spearthrower Owl’s young son was installed as king of the rival city-state.
In the fifth century, architecture and art in Tikal showed influences from Teotihuacan, but the replica of the citadel was built around AD 300.
If correct, the “embassy” theory suggests that diplomatic relations have deteriorated and hostilities have broken out between the two companies.
The idea is supported by the discovery of a compound indicative of the Mayans recently found in the heart of Teotihuacan
The walls of the structure were decorated with colorful Mayan-style murals, Science reports, but they were eventually torn apart and buried – just as Tikal was overtaken.
Researchers hope that further excavation and analysis of human remains in Tikal’s burial chamber will provide more information on the purpose of the compound.
The Mayan civilization reached its peak between AD 250 and 900, when it controlled large swathes of what is now southern Mexico, Guatemala, Belize, and Honduras.
It ended with the arrival of Hernán Cortés and the Spanish conquistadors in the 16th century.
In March, archaeologists announced the discovery of a site in El Palmar, Mexico, and the remains of a high-ranking Mayan diplomat who lived 1,300 years ago.
Named Ajpach ‘Waal, he is said to have helped forge an unlikely alliance between two powerful dynasties.
His body was found in a temple tomb with a staircase leading to a ceremonial platform.
A handful of hieroglyphics adorned the staircase which revealed that Ajpach ‘Waal had visited Honduras in 726 AD to facilitate a treaty between the rival kings of Copán and Calakmul.
Like many parts of the Mayan Empire, El Palmar was ultimately abandoned and reclaimed by the jungle.