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circular altar jocelyn saurini
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DOS PILAS-Peten, Guatemala
Dos Pilas (Two wells/springs) is a medium sized site which played an important role in the Tikal/Calakmul superpower rivalry during the Classic Era (200 A.D.-900 A.D.). Its ancient name was Yax Mutul. There is a well-defined list of rulers from its heyday 629-751 A.D., and this is when most of its monumental construction occurred. The site contains a number of informative hieroglyphic staircases, and has a large cave system that runs throughout the area.
The site was strategically situated between the Pasion and Salinas rivers in the Petexbatun region of northern Guatemala, 5miles/8kms from the Mexican border. It was founded by the great city-state of Tikal, about 73 miles/117 kms to the northeast, to control the important trade along the two rivers, part of the great Usumacinta river system which facilitated the exchange of goods from the Highlands down to the Gulf of Mexico.
Dos Pilas is located 17 miles/27 kms west of the site of El Ceibal/Seibal. Both of these sites are found just off Highway 5 near the village of Sayaxche. It is most easily reached by flying into Flores, an island city in Lake Peten Itza. It is about an hours drive south to the town of Sayaxche. From there it is about 10 miles/17kms to the site. Sayaxche can also be reached by road traveling north from Guatemala City on Highway CA14 to Highway 5, or by road west from Belize on Highway CA13 to Flores.
Modern Flores, ancient Tayasal, was the last independent Maya Kingdom to hold out against the Spanish onslaught which finally fell in 1697.
HOURS: 8 A.M. – 4 P.M.
ENTRANCE FEE: U.S.$8/Q60
GUIDES: Tours and guides can be arranged at Sayaxche or Flores
ON-SITE MUSEUM: No
ACCOMMODATIONS: Food and lodging can be found in Sayaxche or Flores
GPS: 16d 26' 46" N, 90d 16' 41" W
History and Exploration
The site of Dos Pilas was founded by the Tikal King Kinich Muwaan Jol II in 629 A.D., though there is ceramic evidence of earlier settlement activity from the Pre-Classic (300 B.C.-200 A.D.). He installed his son, Balaj Chan Kawiil, as ruler of this new outpost. This intrusion into an already inhabited region was designed to exert direct control through force over the important river trade routes running through the area.
Tikal was bitter enemies with the equally powerful city-state of Calakmul. These two fought continuous wars over a period of centuries, with each defeating the other at times. The results of these wars severely weakened the losers and their allies, and strengthened the winners.
Dos Pilas remained a loyal ally to Tikal until events in 648 A.D. led to a highly unusual outcome. Calakmul attacked and defeated Dos Pilas, but did not remove the king from power, instead making him a vassal of that great city. In 657 A.D. Dos Pilas attacked and defeated Tikal. This act of treason was also orchestrated by Calakmul at the site of Quirigua. Tikal later returned the favor by defeating Dos Pilas in 672 A.D. So, back and forth it went.
In 735 A.D. Dos Pilas attacked and captured the Lord of El Ceibal/Seibal which became a vassal city. In 745 A.D. the great city of Yaxchilan on the Usumacinta River became the next victim. After the crushing defeat of Calakmul in 761 A.D. by Tikal, Dos Pilas was abandoned with the king fleeing, perhaps to the nearby associated site of Aguateca.
The whole area became embroiled in endless warfare with the result being the collapse and abandonment of many of the sites throughout the region. Dos Pilas was briefly reoccupied in the early part of the ninth century. Structures were stripped of their stone to erect defensive walls which proved insufficient from attack, and the site was soon permanently abandoned.
The site was first reported on by Jose Maria and Lisandro Flores de Sayaxche in 1953. Ian Graham visited the site in 1967 and produced the first site map and descriptions. The University of Yale and the University of Vanderbilt conducted surveys and excavations beginning in the 1980’s.
There are close to 500 mounds stretched along an east-west axis with two main groups of monumental architecture. The Central Group is set around a large plaza at the western end of the axis. A multi-tiered platform forms the base for a structure known as Structure L5-49, which is the tallest at the site, about 65 feet/20 meters. It has a north facing orientation, and is accessed by a massive central stairway containing an informative hieroglyphic stairway that was discovered in 2005. The text of the stairway reveals the history of the interactions between the principal sites in the region. At the top of the stairway are two carved hieroglyphic panels. There are three smaller pyramidal temples that surmount the platform, reminiscent of those found at sites such as Palenque and Tikal.
Structure L-5 is located on the east side of the plaza. A rich tomb was discovered here. In front of this structure is a stela, Stela 8, erected by Ruler 3, Ucha’an Kin Balam, in 726 A.D. At the northeast corner of the plaza is the ball court. On the north side of the plaza is a long, low platform with rooms that was possibly used for civic or residential purposes. A larger structure is on the west side of the plaza. Behind this structure is a small complex, Group L-4, and one of its structures also contains a hieroglyphic stairway.
To the south behind the Central Group is located the Palace. This is a large complex with two interior raised courtyards, each surrounded by low platforms and rooms. To the southeast of this group is Structure L5-25 which contains a hieroglyphic stairway oriented to the north.
The Duende Group is found at the eastern end of the axis and is the other group of structures that has attracted attention at the site. This group is also centered around a central plaza, where the second highest structure at the site is found, Structure P5-7. This structure is similar to Structure L5-49 except that it is surmounted by only one temple instead of the three found there, and was constructed into the side of a hill. A nearby sinkhole was found to contain a cave which runs underneath the main structure.
Between the two main groups is a smaller group known as the Bat Palace. A cave was also found underneath this structure as well.
The site suffered greatly from the building of defensive walls just prior to the sites abandonment. They are still visible, and surround the two main groups.
hieroglyphic stairway jocelyn saurini
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