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structure VI                                                 Keith harrington.

structure V temple                                            keith harrington

structure VII                                                    eduardo gonzalez

structure V drone image                                                 INAH

structure VI                                                                           eduardo gonzalez

structure II                                  keith harrington

HORMIGUERO-Campeche (Yucatan), Mexico

Hormiguero, “anthill” in Spanish, is a medium size Maya archaeological zone situated in the Rio Bec area of the Yucatan Peninsula. It is known for its richly decorated structural facades adorning some of the restored structures.  There are three main groups set along a southwest to northeast axis, with 84 identified structures spread throughout the zone.

The site is located southwest of the archaeological zone of Xpuhil within the eastern sector of the Calakmul Biosphere Reserve. It is reached off the Campeche/Chetumal Highway 186. Turn south onto Highway 269 at the town of Xpujil located more or less midway between the two state capitals of Campeche and Chetumal. Continue south to pueblo Ramal, and take an uneven, winding road west for about 4.5 miles/7.25 km to the site entrance. There is good signage, and the total distance from Xpujil is about 15 miles/24 km.

HOURS: 8AM-5PM. No INAH presence, though visitors are permitted
ACCOMODATIONS: Accommodations can be found at Xupjil and Chetumal or Campeche
GPS: 18d 24’36” N, 89d 29’34” W
MISC: Bring snacks and water

Hormiguero is located within the greater Rio Bec archaeological zone, and mirrors the rise and fall of these other sites. Ceramic evidence establishes that the site was occupied beginning in the Late Preclassic (300 BCE-250 CE). Masonry architecture appears by the 5th century. It experienced its greatest expansion in the Late Classic (600-800 CE), and then fell into a gradual decline with its abandonment around 950 CE. There have been no readable stelae or other hieroglyphic texts found at the site to identify its rulers and social/political connections to other sites. It is thought to have been a dependency of the regional capital located at Becan, and part of the greater Rio Bec area which included Xpuhil, Chicanna, Rio Bec, Channa, and other smaller sites.

Hormiguero was first reported on by Karl Ruppert and John Dennison of the Carnegie Institution in April of 1933. Excavation and restoration commenced in 1977 by Agustin Pene Castillo of INAH. There followed Romain Pina Chan, Ricardo Bueno and Luz Gutierrez of INAH in 1984-85. Structure V was excavated and consolidated in the 1990’s by Angeles Cantero. Viciente Suarez led further conservation work on Structures II and V in 2016, with more recent explorations and restorations of Structures VI-VIII.

Hormiguero has three main groups: South, Central, and North which include individual structures set around plazas and courtyards. The structures are arranged in a rather haphazard fashion, unusual for the Maya. An aguada, a natural water basin, is located to the southwest of the South Group.

The South Group features Structure II, and is the most impressive of the structures so far excavated. The structure faces south onto a small plaza, and houses eight corbeled vaulted chambers set upon a raised platform measuring roughly 75.5 feet/23 meters by 157 feet/48 meters. It is termed a tripartite structure, as its façade has three clearly defined sections. The central section features a doorway framed by an enormous, intricate, open-mouthed stone and stucco serpent motif, a representation of Itzamnaaj. This feature is representative of Chenes style architectural influence found throughout the area, and the one here at Hormiguero is the largest. The doorway is quite large, about 10-12 feet/3-3.6 meters high, and leads into two parallel main chambers which are separated by a single entryway. A small chamber at plaza level is located directly in front of the serpent doorway. Two stairways flank the chamber and lead up to a terrace that houses the main chambers.

The central doorway is flanked by two towers of approximately 55 feet/17 meters in height containing faux stairways crowned by temples which typify the Rio Bec architectural style. Behind each tower is a chamber accessed from the rear terrace of the structure, again through a very high doorway. On the edge of the terrace is a line of 8 columns.

On either side of the towers are two symmetrical constructions that each house two chambers in parallel, and are reached by a passageway that passes beneath the tower stairways. The south/plaza side of the end chambers feature nicely executed mosaic deity masks. The chambers are entered between well constructed round columns that connect to the walls. Below each construction is another chamber at plaza level that is also entered between round columns, and displays mosaic geometric motifs.

South of the Structure II plaza is a courtyard complex whose main structure is Structure I. It is a pyramid mound with a base of about 59 feet/18 meters square, and a height of about 16.5 feet/5 meters. No remains of a temple superstructure have been identified so far. There are some other mounds associated with this complex, including two parallel mounds of about 72 feet/22 meters in length, though they have not been identified as a ball court. 

To the north of Structure II are several structures that form two adjoining complexes of the Central Group, here called the East Complex and the West Complex. The most important of these is Structure V located in the West Complex.

Structure V houses two joined, yet separate constructions, an unusual arrangement. It is located on the south side of a small plaza. The principal structure is a three-tiered pyramid/tower that reaches a height of about 23 feet/7 meters. A plaza stairway leads up to a terrace summit with a richly decorated, single-chamber temple at the rear of the terrace. The temple has at its corners impressive, stacked rain god masks, and is entered through a portal surrounded by an intricately fashioned, Chenes style, earth monster mosaic.  Beneath the stairway is a through-passageway. The second structure is a linear, range type construction incorporating 3 chambers running south to north set back on a small, raised terrace accessed from the plaza. A fourth chamber is positioned at a 90-degree angle butting up against the pyramid structure and the north chamber.

Structure V faces east onto a small plaza, and on the west side of this structure is Structure VI. This structure is similar in design to Structure II in that the main/central chamber is entered through the remains of an earth monster mask. The main chamber is comprised of two, parallel interconnected rooms containing benches, with a fair amount of original stucco still adhering to the walls. Stacked Chaac masks and other decorative stucco/stone elements frame the entryway with faint traces of red paint still visible. The remains of two towers flank the main/central chamber each displaying a passageway that runs underneath. Behind each tower is a separate chamber with a side facing entryway. The north/rear of the structure features three corbel vaulted chambers at plaza level. A stone lined chultun is located on the west side of the structure.

Across the plaza from Structure V is the East Complex which features a linear range of structures including Structures III and IV. This area has not been extensively excavated or restored.

The North Group is centered around two small plazas housing several mounds with Structure VII being restored. Structure VII rests on a square, low platform base accessed by a set of steps that leads to a small terrace. Another step allows entry into the structure itself. Its entryway faces north across a small plaza, and contains two interconnected, parallel chambers containing benches. The rear chamber is entered by another step up. Within the rear chamber a short set of steps was discovered that lead down to a subterranean chamber where another hidden, smaller chamber was also located that was hollowed out directly into the limestone.

Hormiguero is an excellent example of the blending of the Rio Bec and Chenes architectural styles, and a must see if in the area.

updated April 2023

structure V                                    david de la garza

structure II                                                                      david de la garza

structure II masks detail             keith harrington

structure V temple                                                          HJPD

detail structure II                              steve mellard

structure II                                                        keith harrington

structure V linear chambers                      latinamericanstudies

structure II                                                                         HJPD

structure V                                      keith harington

structure VI west tower                                  INAH

site map                                                                   INAH

under stair passageway                  steve mellard


structure II drone image                                                 INAH

structure II  west view                                        steve mellard.

structure V 1932 expedition                                             karl ruppert

structure VII                                                  keith harrington

structure II  detail                                              by hjpd

recovered sculpture                               INAH