Archaeologists have found “lost” capital of the ancient Mayan kingdom of Sak Tz’i ‘, which was built in the year 750 and remained occupied for a millennium.
It was in the “backyard” of a farm in Lacanja Tzeltal, in the Chiapas region, in the extreme south of Mexico, that a team of archaeologists found the lost capital of the ancient Mayan kingdom of Sak Tz’i ‘. The article published by the group in the Journal of Field Archeology states that the city was probably built in AD 750 and remained occupied for a thousand years.
The discovery was a stroke of luck, according to the experts. As reported in a statement to the press, in 2014, researcher Whittaker Schroder was driving through the Chiapas region when he saw a man waving at him. The scientist decided not to stop because he thought the man was selling meat, something he was not interested in, as he was a vegetarian.
Days later, Schroder passed through the region and saw the same man again. This time, he decided to stop. Only then the archaeologist discovered that the man was not selling food, but wanted to show the researcher a board he had found there. The result? That artifact was evidence that, centuries ago, the region had been very important to the Mayan people.
It took five years for excavations in the area to begin, but the delay was worth it: in addition to the wreckage of Mayan monuments, experts found what was left of some pyramids, the royal palace and a sports court.
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According to historians, the Sak Tz’i ‘kingdom was relatively small, encompassing what is now the border between Mexico and Guatemala. Academics have been looking for evidence of this Mayan society since 1994, when they identified references to it in inscriptions found in other excavations.
Despite being much smaller than other Mayan societies at the time, the way these people lived was similar to that of the larger Mayan cities. Commoners lived in the countryside, harvesting a wide variety of plants and creating ceramic and stone artifacts – and selling these products at a local market.
The center of religious and political activity was at a place known as “Plaza Muk’ul Ton”, a 6,000-square-meter courtyard where people gathered for ceremonies. There was also a 13-meter pyramid in the northeast of the city that was surrounded by houses.
Experts also found evidence that, on one side, the capital was surrounded by steep slopes and, on the other, by masonry walls built to prevent invaders. But this protection was not always effective: on one of the monuments, some inscriptions indicated that at least part of the city was set on fire during a conflict with neighboring kingdoms.
In fact, Sak Tz’i ‘was unfortunate to be surrounded by more powerful cities – which meant constant wars or, at the very least, the imminence of violent battles at any time. According to Charles Golden, an anthropologist who led the research, the survival of this society for so many years says a lot about its military power and diplomatic capacity, something especially interesting for historians.
Despite the various artifacts and debris found, the board that was presented to Whittaker at the beginning of the research is of particular importance. The artifact is 60 centimeters wide by 1.2 meters long and has inscriptions that refer to Mayan mythology.
In addition, in the object, there are writings about the region’s rulers. According to historians, this intertwining of myth with reality was typical of those people and had a special meaning for scribes of the time.
In this object, a member of royalty was portrayed dancing, dressed as Yopaat, the god responsible for the violent tropical storms that hit the region. On his right hand, the figure carries an axe, which represents the lightning of the storm. Meanwhile, on the left, he holds a “gauntlet”, a stone glove used in ritualistic combat.
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In Mexico, all cultural heritage, like the ancient Mayan sites, is considered state property. For this reason, the owner of the farm was afraid that the land would be confiscated by the government – which did not happen. Now Golden, Scherer and the rest of the team hope to get permission from the Mexican government and the local community to resume excavations at Sak Tz’i ‘in 2020.
The aim is to continue mapping the city using a technique called LIDAR, in which a laser locator flies over the archaeological site to analyze the architecture and topography of the area. The team hopes that in this way they will be able to make new discoveries, some of which will help preserve the ancient Mayan capital.