Image courtesy of Marcello Canuto
In 2009, NGS/Waitt grantee Marcello Canuto explored the archaeological site of El Achiotal in Western Petén, Guatemala. It is a small site located 20 km east of the classic site of La Corona built upon a karstic ridge surrounded by seasonally-flooded lowlands (bajos).
The site's primary occupation appears to have been between 400 BCE and 550 CE, the Late Preclassic and Early Classic periods, and perhaps beginning earlier in the Middle Preclassic, between 800 and 400 BCE. Preliminary explorations revealed the presence of a royal dynasty painted on a mural that depicts royal insignia of divine kingship in a style unknown elsewhere in the Petén lowlands. Moreover, the iconographic representation suggests an affiliation with imagery associated with the earlier Olmec civilization of the Gulf Coast. El Achiotal's location to the west of the core area of Petén is perfect for understanding what relationship existed between early core Maya centers and frontier sites connecting the region with the western lowlands and the Gulf Coast. The Middle and Late Preclassic are critical periods in the history of emerging city-states in the Maya lowlands, and El Achiotal is likely to reveal exciting new data about the role that smaller frontier sites played during these changes. With its strategic location west of the core region and its unusual features, El Achiotal provides an opportunity to explore early Maya socio-political integration at a local and regional level.
As most archaeological sites in the Petén, El Achiotal has suffered severe depredation by looters. Most buildings contain very large looters’ trenches, some of which reveal relatively well preserved masonry walls. The tallest pyramid at the site not only has looters’ trenches but was deeply penetrated by a series of tunnels. These tunnels exposed an architectural sequence perhaps initiating as early as the Middle Preclassic period (800 – 400 BCE), but certainly dating from the Late Preclassic through the Early Classic periods (400 BCE – 600 CE). This discovery is significant, particularly because of some painted murals on their exterior, revealing styles and techniques rarely found in the Maya area.
Canuto and his team's archaeological investigations revealed interesting data that point toward an early and strong occupation during the Preclassic period, particularly during the Late Preclassic. The construction sequence identified in the tunnels inside Structure 5C-01 in the South Group suggest the initial settlement was during an early facet of the Late Preclassic, perhaps even during the Middle Preclassic, and lasted through the Early Classic. It is during this latter phase that evidence reflects the ceasing of construction activities, at least in Structure 5C-01, the temple locus at the site. To date, the results from test excavations in the plaza and patio of the South Group do not allude to a Late Classic occupation, although other areas of the site remain to be investigated.
Drawing by MJ Acuña
The answer to one of the world's most stubborn mysteries may lie hidden on the site of the destroyed Jewish Temple.
Though he died more than 2,000 years ago, the final resting place of Herod the Great, King of Judaea, has been hard to locate.
The ancient Egyptians spent time and treasure creating hidden underground mausoleums that no one was ever meant to see.
Palenque is a modern wellspring from which researchers have drawn some of the most detailed information about Maya culture.
The Innovators Project
Abdel Kader Haidara had made it his life's work to document Mali's illustrious past. When the jihadists came, he led the rescue operation to save 350,000 manuscripts.
Explore Nat Geo
Investigate a murder in Cleopatra's palace.
Use forensic archaeology to solve the death of China's first emperor.
How much do you know about the ancient Mesoamerican Maya civilization?
National Geographic Magazine
Rome’s border walls were the beginning of its end.
How did the Easter Island statues move? That question puzzles archaeologists—and modern-day islanders.
Archaeologists and artists, armed with the latest tools and techniques, are bringing the life-size army of painted clay soldiers back to life.
Shop Our Space Collection
The Great Energy Challenge is a National Geographic initiative to help you understand our current energy situation. Explore the GEC to figure out and trim your carbon footprint.