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palace group & calzada group aguateca project
overhead view google earth
str M7-32 the palace to str M7-26 sebastion homberger
structure M7-32 palace hjpd
structure M7-26 long meeting house hjpd
structure L8-5 sebastion homberger
main plaza group aguateca project
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structure M7-34 communal house google
structure M7-35 house of the niche hjpd.
structure M7-26 hjpd
Aguateca is a medium sized Mayan archaeological zone located in the southern Petexbatun region, in southwestern Peten. Its original name may have been K’inch Pa’ Witz (Shining Cleft Mountain), as reflected by its emblem glyph. The site is strategically positioned on a tributary of the Passion River which then flows into the mighty Usumacinta. It is set upon an escarpment that overlooks Lake Petexbatun, with a deep chasm that runs through the center of the site. It was one of the larger and more important sites in the region that included Dos Pilas, Seibal, Tamarindito, and Cancuen, among others.
Most of the masonry constructions date from its heyday 700-800 A.D., when the site had a population of about 4,500. At the end of this period Aguateca was attacked and burned with the site abandoned. The ruins lay undisturbed until 1990 when a multidisciplinary team began excavations at the site. This work uncovered a treasure trove of artifacts including figurines, ceramic masks, musical instruments, and carved greenstone among other items. These have helped researchers understand in greater detail the daily life, and activities of its elite inhabitants through the organization and interaction of their households within the community.
The site is not easily accessible. It is reached from the town of Sayaxche,10 miles/16 kms to the north. From there the final distance is made via boat, hiking or horseback. It is recommended to take an organized tour. Tours can be booked in Sayaxche or Flores.
Flores is the main jumping off city for the Peten. Main highways connect Flores to Guatemala City, but most visitors fly into the city. Flores can also be reached by highway from Belize. Sayaxche is 42 miles/68 kms south of Flores on Highway 5.
HOURS: 8 A.M.-4:30 P.M.
ENTRANCE FEE: included with tour
GUIDES: none on site
SERVICES: check with tour agency
ON-SITE MUSEUM: no
ACCOMMODATIONS: Sayaxche or Flores; on-site camping
GPS: 16d 23’ 35” N, 90d 12’ 25” W
MISC: bring food and drink; hiking boots and mosquito spray recommended
HISTORY AND EXPLORATION
Ceramic evidence has shown an occupation at Aguateca from the Late Pre-Classic (300 B.C. -250 A.D.). A number of structures have been identified from this time period in the western portion of the site. Prior to the arrival of ruler Itzamna K’awiil from Dos Pilas (ruled 698-726 A.D.), the area around Aguateca was controlled by the Tamarindito dynastic group which included Arroyo de Piedra. Their activity at the site seems to have been centered around a cave group located at the southern end of the escarpment and in the Main Plaza. Two structures, some ceramics and a few stelae have been associated with this period.
By 700 A.D., Dos Pilas had occupied the site and made it a co-equal capital. This began a period of expanded construction activities and political expansion that continued until its abandonment. In August 735 A.D. both Dos Pilas and Aguateca erected stelae commemorating a victory by ruler Ucha’an K’in B’alam over the strategic site of Seibal. Stela 5, located in the Main Plaza, records a period ending date and scattering ritual by ruler K’awiil Chan K’inich in 126.96.36.199.0, 8 Ahau 8 Zotz (April 10, 756 A.D.). In 761 A.D. Dos Pilas itself was abandoned with the ruling elite fleeing to Aguateca after its protector kingdom, Calakmul, was defeated by Tikal. Aguateca experienced a rapid growth in population and construction at this point.
An altar in front of a structure in the Main Plaza has a date that has been interpreted as 810 A.D., the last date recorded at the site. The date is within the reign of Tan Te’ K’inich, the last ruler. This time period was one of intense warfare throughout the entire Petexbatun region. Around 830 A.D. Aguateca was attacked and burned by invading forces, possibly from Tamarindito. Its citizens either fled or were captured. The king and his immediate family may have escaped the city prior to the attack though they are never heard from again. The attacking force ritually destroyed the possessions and symbols of the ruler in what has been describe as “Termination Rituals”. This type of organized destruction served to symbolically and spiritually destroy any remaining connection of the ruler to the site, and to its inhabitants. The rest of the site was burned. The roofs of perishable materials collapsed which has preserved thousands of artifacts for modern researchers to uncover and investigate.
The destruction of the site, with its artifacts preserved undisturbed, has been of enormous importance for the study of daily Maya life among the elite. Researchers have been able to determine what type of craft manufacturing and other activities were carried out within many of the structures, and even within specific rooms. These activities included the use of shell, bone, obsidian, alabaster, and pyrite among others. Spindle whorls have indicated the presence of weaving. Large ceramic vessels have denoted storerooms.
Ian Graham visited the site in the 1950’s and documented some of the stelae, and produced a site map. Investigations on a larger scale were carried out under the Petexbatun Regional Archaeological Project between 1989-1994 by the University of Vanderbilt, initially by Arthur Demarest and Stephen Houston. This was followed by the Aguateca Archaeology Project 1995-2005 led by Takeshi Inomata and Daniela Triadan.
Aguateca has three main groups of structures and several secondary groups set along a mostly northeast/southwest axis. With the exception of three structures exhibiting corbeled vaults, all others had a roof of perishable materials. A deep chasm that runs on a similar axis divides the site in two, both being connected by a natural limestone bridge. The chasm reaches a maximum depth of 194 feet/60 meters, and provided the site with an excellent defensive capability. It is thought that a chasm, like caves, held spiritual importance.
The Palace Group is on the east side of the chasm and rests on the highest elevation of the escarpment. This group was the royal court and administrative complex composed of residences and palaces. It is set around a square plaza, Plaza Hundida, and measures about 163 feet/50 meters by 98 feet/30 meters. The group includes two once-vaulted structures, M7-32 and M7-22.
M7-22, House of Masks, is located on the north side of the plaza. It is set at the back of a wide terrace, having five chambers interspaced by a hallway and gallery. A number of the chambers appear to have been used in craft production displaying the remains of lithic, bone and shell material. One sealed chamber was discovered that contained a number of artifacts related to the royal court. These included finished shell, bone, and greenstone objects, as well as two ceramic masks. A broad stairway leads down to the plaza. This structure is in an overgrown state.
M7-32, House of Bones or simply The Palace, is found on the west side of the plaza, and is set on a stepped platform terrace about 10 feet/3.1 meters in height. It is about 52 feet/16 meters in length, rectangular in design, and features four chambers. The front chamber/gallery is accessed through three doorways, and contains two benches. Two rear chambers are accessed through a central doorway. The third chamber is accessed by a separate entry from the terrace on the south side. Benches are set against the walls in each chamber. A grand stairway leads down to the plaza with a smaller set of steps on the south side of the platform terrace. A parallel stairway is found on the west side of the platform terrace that extends down to the foundations of three small chambers. Craft production material was located here as well.
Both of these structures show evidence of “Termination Rituals” that were carried out by the invaders after the capture of the site. Huge amounts of ceramic, stone and other material were broken within and outside of the structures. This type of ritual destroyed the symbolic and spiritual connection between a ruler, the site, and the people.
Structure M7-26, The Long Meeting House, is located on the east side of the plaza, and takes up the entire space. It is a long, range type structure that was most likely the administrative heart of the site. It consists of two parallel galleries divided by a central wall and are entered between ten pillars from each side. Benches line the central wall with no partitions. Artifacts recovered include plates, bowls, grinding stones, flint instruments and spear tips. A broad stairway leads down to the plaza.
On the south side of the courtyard a wide, raised terrace contains stairways on both the north and south sides that would enable entry into and out of the royal complex. Several, small ruined structures are located upon the terrace. The south steps open onto the Calzada, a broad causeway that runs southward about 782 feet/240 meters.
The Calzada has been determined to be the residences/workshops of the elite of Aguateca. All of these structures show evidence of specialized craft production. The structures line both sides with the majority being on the east side. Due to the terrain, the causeway experiences slight adjustments in height. The first structure encountered is Structure M7-35.
Structure M7-35, House of the Niche, is found on the west side of the causeway. It is a small structure divided in two by a solid wall. The side facing south has a main entry into a single chamber. A large bench takes up most of the area. A niche is located on the side of the bench at ground level. Another smaller entryway is on the east side. The rear of the structure contains three small chambers.
Structure M7-34, also known as the House of the Metates or Communal House, is on the east side of the causeway across from the House of the Niche. This structure is enclosed by a low, perimeter wall with the main entrance on the west side that opens onto a terrace. The structure is set to the back of the terrace, and is accessed between three square pillars into a gallery. Two rear chambers are taken up mostly by large platform benches.
Behind this structure is a courtyard surrounded by several small structures that were engaged in the manufacture of lithic and other craft products. Further south along the causeway are numerous other structures, some of them excavated and partially restored.
The House of the Five Rooms, M8-11, is situated on the east side of the Calzada. This structure is similar to M7-34 in that it too is surrounded by a low wall with the structure at the back of a terrace. A series of pillars afforded entry to a gallery which in turn opens onto five rooms. Again, some of these rooms were taken up by large platform benches. Structure M8-13, House of the Nobel Woman, is located behind and consists of two small chambers. This small structure forms the south end of the aforementioned courtyard.
The House of Columns, Structure M8-37, is on the west side of the causeway and is set on a low platform base about 52 feet/16 meters in length. A wide stairway leads up five steps to a terrace level surrounded by a low wall. Twin columns graced an entry into a central chamber having benches on each side with access to a rear chamber. The central entrance is flanked by two other chambers each with a separate entry and a rear chamber having the broad bench platforms. A narrow corridor on the south side runs between the main structure and a small platform with steps.
The causeway ends at the natural bridge that crosses over to the Main Plaza. South of the causeway is an isolated group known as Barranca Escondida, Hidden Ravine. This is a small group most noted for the four carved stela that were recovered here. The stelae date to the time frame while under the control of Tamarindito. Just north of the Barranca Escondida is a smaller, second natural bridge that crosses over to the west side of the site, and into the Main Plaza.
The Main Plaza was the civic/ceremonial area of Aguateca. This plaza is quite large measuring about 326 feet/100 meters square, and is set on a northeast/southwest axis about 59 degrees east of north. It contains 15 of the 19 stelae identified at the site, along with numerous round altars. In the center of the plaza is a round altar and stela, Stela 14. There are six main structures that ring the plaza. Three of these structures are associated with ruler Tan Te’ K’inich, L8-6, L8-8, L8-11, and show evidence of Ritual Termination activities. The first structure encountered when crossing the chasm is Structure L8-5.
L8-5 is a truncated pyramid, one of two pyramids that flank the passage into the plaza. It has a base of four staggered tiers, and measures about 78 feet/24 meters square. Its height is about 24 feet/7.5 meters. A broad, central stairway measures about 29 feet/9 meters in length. Half-way up the stairway is a small shrine inset into the steps. The summit is crowned with low foundation walls of a two-room temple. The largest number of stelae and altars at the site are set in front of this pyramid highlighting its importance. Two of them have been re-erected, Stela 3 retaining the most information, and both dedicated by early rulers of Aguateca/Dos Pilas.
On the south side of the passage into the plaza is a mound covered pyramid, L8-6. In front of this structure is an altar and a stela, Stela 19, dedicated by Tan Te’ K’inich, and describing events from 775-778 A.D. This structure had a vaulted temple and may have been this rulers’ dynastic temple.
Structure L8-4, the Counsel House, is adjacent to L8-5 and is an elongated, range type structure. It has a length of 170 feet/52 meters, and rises off the plaza floor on a platform base. A wide, 4-step stairway runs along most of the platform and leads up to a broad terrace with the structure at the back. Access to the structure is gained between four square pillars that open onto a gallery. A rear chamber runs the length of the structure, and incorporates a bench along the wall. Several burials have been located within the structure denoting its importance. The structure is considered to have been of a civic nature.
L8-8 is the only structure located on the west side of the Main Plaza. It is notable in that the structure was never completed due to the invasion and sacking of the city around 830 A.D. This unfinished state has provided researchers with valuable information on Maya construction techniques and practices. The structure is of a pyramidal design and would possibly have been the principle temple and future tomb of ruler Tan Te’ K’inich.
Even though it is unfinished, L8-8 is the largest structure at the site. It measures about 163 feet/50 meters square with a height of around 26 feet/8 meters. Its present form displays three staggered tiers. A depression at the top has led researchers to theorize that this was the roughed-out basement of a tomb that when completed would eventually have had a temple erected atop. The backside of the structure has an earthen construction ramp that leads to the summit. Numerous building materials and construction debris were located nearby. The front of the structure however, was mostly complete, and clear of any construction debris.
Structure L8-8, as mentioned, is comprised of three tiers built upon a platform base. The first tier is accessed from the plaza level by a broad stairway of five steps. A wide terrace is present before the next tier is reached by a ruined, central stairway. Two plain panels flank the stairway. Located on the terrace are found two stelae, Stela 11 and 12, and their attendant altars. The stelae are plain, and have been toppled over. One of the altars, Altar M, contains a glyphic inscription including a date of 810 A.D., the latest dated monument at the site.
Structure L8-11 is located on the north side of the plaza. This structure has a length of about 176 feet/54 meters, and a width of 39 feet/12 meters. It rises about 10 feet/3 meters off the plaza floor on a two-tier platform base. An altar and fallen stela are set in front. A central stairway leads up to a terrace. The structure itself is set at the back of the terrace being an open hall entered between six square pillars. A large, platform bench is centrally located against the rear wall. This may have been the royal bench upon which the ruler and his court presided.
Structure L8-7 is positioned on the south side of the plaza. It is in an overgrown state. Four stelae and their attendant altars are located in front.
To the west of the Main Plaza are several smaller groups set around plazas or courtyards. The most important of these is the Grenada Group, located immediately behind Structure L8-8. It is a large, elite residential area. Other groups include the West Plaza, Manaco Group, and the Guacamaya Group.
Numerous defensive walls were constructed during Aguateca’s last days. They proved to be ineffective to a determined enemy. Aguateca was defeated, the city burned, its remaining inhabitants captured or fleeing, the end result being the complete and total abandonment of the site.
structure M7-32 palace sebastion homberger