Recent Quintana Roo Discoveries Redifines the 'Maya Collapse'
Past Horizons
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December 31, 2012



Temple of the Owl, Dzibanché Archaeological Zone. (INAH)

A polychromatic stucco mural, referring to one of the oldest Mayan dynasties of the important city of Dzibanché, in Quintana Roo is one of the latest findings which reveals that it was inhabited well into the 13th century CE, and not the 11th century CE when it was believed the cities of the Lowlands were completely abandoned during the “Maya collapse“.



Mural located in the Temple of the Cormorants. (INAH)

Continuing the work of Enrique Nalda

This important find comes after study was resumed by specialists  from the National Institute of Anthropology and History (INAH) after the death of archaeologist Enrique Nalda (1936-2010) who worked extensively on the ancient Maya city.

During his last season there he found human remains and a large number of offerings including a bone artefact carved with a scene of human sacrifice, greenstone jade along with obsidian artefacts.

A massive city state

Dzibanché is a city located in southern Quintana Roo, set within 40 square kilometres in the jungle and is composed of four discreet groups of buildings: Dzibanche, Tutil, the Central Complex and the Kinichna Acropolis. The city site reached  its peak in the Classic period (200-1000 CE), during which the Kaan dynasty ruled, one of the oldest and most important of all the Maya.



Conservation work on the stucco friezes, discovered in the Small Acropolis. (INAH)

Archaeologist Sandra Balanzario, project leader at Dzibanché reported that the new data indicates the city was inhabited until well into the Late Postclassic period (1200-1550 AD), “which is important because our previous research pointed to the end being the Terminal Classic (800-1000 AD).“

She explained that among the artefacts recovered was a Late Classic vessel that had been ritually killed (intentionally broken) and deposited as an offering, the piece is decorated with iconography referring to one of the brothers called  Sky Witness, one of the most important past rulers of the Kaan dynasty.

This vessel, along with two murals have been restored. They are covered with glyphs associated with this dynasty and indicate a continuation of the Kaan lineage.

This is important as previously it was thought that the Kaan dynasty had settled in Dzibanché during the Classic period, and then moved to Calakmul, but this discovery shows a continuity at this location with a branch of the dynasty remaining in Dzibanché to control the city.

Looking for the residents

Balanzario said that after a two year break in activity on the  research project at the site, work resumed in Dzibanché with a priority on the conservation and consolidation of the areas Nalda discovered between 2008 and 2009.

The INAH archaeologist at Quintana Roo explained that the objective of Nalda’s last season was to find houses of the ordinary people, as he had already discovered ceremonial areas and buildings with burial chambers.

It was during this work he discovered the dwellings of the city administration, much of the standing architecture covered in fragments of polychrome painted stucco and graffiti, some bearing the family glyphs of Kaan.

These buildings were located in the area known as Little Acropolis, which also produced archaeological materials that were not associated with domestic activity; rich offerings dating to the 1300s, including shell objects, gold, polychrome pottery, jade beads and organic materials.

Ritual killing

The team also found the remains of four dismembered individuals who appear to have been killed along with the ritually killed artefacts such as censers, flint and obsidian knives and a bone awl depicting the heart removal scene of a sacrifice.

Another richly adorned structure was located, which, due to its proximity to the main monuments of Dzibanché, archaeologists think could have been be the actual residence of the Kaan Dynasty.

Nearby, in the Temple of the Cormorants, Nalda’s team discovered another mural with polychrome stucco, created during the Classic period, its iconography representing the sacred mountain, which describes the origin and legitimacy of the Kaan Dynasty. This second mural was found on one side of the Temple of the Cormorants, which had only been excavated from the front, where Nalda, in 1995, discovered the tomb of Sky Witness. The mural was hidden by a sloping wall of Early Postclassic (1000-1250 AD) period so remained hidden.

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