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ITZAMKANAC/EL TIGRE- Campeche, Mexico
El Tigre/Itzamkanac is a Chontal Maya archaeological zone located within the Candelaria river basin in the south of Campeche. El Tigre is the name of the town/ejido in which the site is located. Itzamkanac, “Place of the Iguana/Crocodile House” in Chontal Maya, was the original name of the site. It has a lengthy history, and was the regional capital of the Acalanes province.
The site is situated upon a hill overlooking the banks of the Candelaria River. The river is about 240 miles/400 km in length, and its tributaries connect both the Peten region of Guatemala to the south, and Calakmul to the east. which in turn flow down to the Terminos Lagoon and Gulf of Mexico. It was a very important trade and communication route.
There are two main plazas that house 4 large structures, a ball court, and incorporates 13 altars and 3 plain stelae. Several smaller masonry structures are arranged around the plazas atop raised platforms. The structures themselves exhibit Peten, Rio Bec, and Post Classic architectural styles. Raised agricultural fields have been documented along the banks of the river. The population at its peak has been estimated at 10,000, a fairly large city.
Itzamkanac is not an easy site to reach, and involves numerous turnoffs. From Campeche travel south on Highway 180 to Champoton. At the south end of town take the road south to Escarcega. Stop for lunch or snacks here. Pick up Highway 186 west out of town for about 1 mile/1.6 km to the well-marked turnoff to Candelaria. Once in Candelaria look for signage to Highway 221 south. Follow this road and take the left fork about 6.5 miles/10.6 km out of town. Continue on about 8.75 miles/14km to an east turnoff towards Monclova. Before reaching this town look for signage for a turnoff north to El Tigre and the site. The site can also be reached by boat from Candelaria.
HOURS:8 A.M.-5 P.M, everyday
ENTRANCE FEE: $3.50/65 Pesos
GUIDES: none on site, inquire at the town of El Tigre
SERVICES: Bathrooms, INAH kiosk
ON-SITE MUSEUM: no
ACCOMMODATIONS: Day trip from Campeche; local hotels in Candeleria
GPS: 18d 07’ 15” N. 90d 15’ 13” W
HISTORY AND EXPLORATION
Itzamkanac has a long settlement history beginning in the Middle Pre-Classic (700-300 B.C.). The site was not abandoned until well after the Spanish invasion, c.1557, when the population was forced to relocate to the coastal town of Tixchel. There have been no carved stela or other inscriptions discovered to identify its rulers or political associations with other sites, though its strategic location on the Candelaria River afforded it a commanding position overseeing the trade routes throughout the entire area.
The architecture and recovered ceramics indicate early associations with the great Kingdom of Tikal in the Late Pre-Classic (300 B.C.-250 A.D.). Architectural structures during the Early Classic (250-600 A.D.) have been identified with the Rio Bec style further to the East. Later building renovations occurred during the Terminal and Post Classic.
A large number of lithic objects, especially knife blades, have been recovered at the site. An interesting collection of spherical objects have been found and identified as weights. Very intriguing! Numerous eccentrics carved from either flint or obsidian have been discovered as well. This would certainly indicate a strong trade relationship Itzamkanac had with other trade/production centers throughout the Maya area.
The site experienced three episodes of growth and expansion. The first occurred during the Late Pre-Classic, the second in the Terminal Classic, and the last in the Post Classic.
Itzamkanac has been identified as a capital of the Chontal Maya, a coastal group. At the time of the Spanish invasion the area was known as Acalan, “Place of Canoes” in the Nahuatl language.
In 1525 the Spanish leader Hernan Cortez passed through Itzamkanac on his way to Las Hibueras, Honduras to quell a mutiny there by Cristobal de Olid. Depending on the interpretation of various researchers, Cortez had the last king of the Aztec, Cuauhtemoc, along with other nobility, executed either in Itzamkanac or in the nearby village of Yaxzam/Taxaha on February 28th of that year.
At the time of the visit by Cortez, Itzamkanac was ruled by an individual named Paxbolonacha. It is reported that his brother ruled the important trading settlement in Nito, Guatemala, located on the Caribbean coast demonstrating the extensive trade network of the Chontal Maya at the time of the Spanish invasion.
The first investigations of Itzamkanac were carried out by W. Andrews IV, 1943; followed by Scholes and Ralph Roys 1948. Roman Pina Chan and Pavon Abru led investigations in 1958 and concluded that the site was Itzamkanac of historical accounts. Lorenzo Ochoa Salas began excavations and restorations in the 1980’s. Ernesto Vargas Pacheco of UNAM began detailed investigations and consolidations between 2001-2005.
There are two main plaza groups that make up the ceremonial precinct of the site. Numerous mounds extend 5 miles/3kms south to Laguna de Pato, as well as to the east and even further out to the west. A series of platforms have been identified along the banks of the Candelaria River. Numerous chultuns/wells have been identified throughout the site as well as several sacbeob (raised white stone roads).
The Great Plaza, Plaza 1, is at the heart of the ceremonial precinct. The plaza measures about 978 feet/300 meters by 489 feet/150 meters. The plaza is ringed by three large structural groups, Structures 1-3, and contains a centrally situated ball court.
The Structure 1 group is composed of a huge platform base, and it situated at the southern end of the Great Plaza. It contains several structures set around its own raised plaza, here called Plaza A to avoid confusion. The platform base measures 486 feet/149 meters by 430 feet/132 meters, and is about 30 feet/9 meters in height. It has two north facing stairways. The main stairway is centrally positioned, and is quite broad. A secondary stairway leads up to Structure 1b. Five altars have been associated with this structure group. The main structure of the group is Structure 1.
Structure 1 is a truncated pyramid that resides on the south side of the platform, and faces north across Plaza A. It rises to a height of about 75 feet/23 meters. A broad, central stairway rises halfway up a set of tiers to a terrace. A second, central stairway then rises up the next set of tiers to the summit. The summit houses a long, one-room chamber featuring a single entryway. The structure exhibits three construction phases beginning in the Late Pre-Classic. Twelve burials have been recovered within the northeast section of the structure.
A stunning find was made in the northwest corner of the upper stairway of Structure 1. The find was a Terminal/Post Classic offering consisting of a lidded ceramic box containing 18 objects made from flint covered in red iron oxide pigment. Among these were well-executed eccentrics and knives. A very large flint blade was positioned in front of the box with an eccentric flint placed atop.
At the Plaza A level of Structure 1, a sub structure has been excavated. This structure dates to the Late Pre-Classic and displays a single stairway flanked by a large mask attached to a sloped wall. It depicts a zoomorphic figure possibly dedicated to Itzam Na.
Structure 1a is located on the southwest side of Plaza A. This is a round, three-tiered structure having a single, east facing stairway. Its foundation walls are currently about 3.26 feet/1 meter in height. A small, central rubble area may have been an altar. Its exact function has not been determined, though it has been suggested it was a temple dedicated to Kukulcan. However, other circular structures have been associated with astronomical events such as the Solstice and Equinox, and it appears that the door frame may align with the Summer Solstice.
Structure 1b holds down the northwest corner of Plaza A. This is a mostly square three-tiered structure. A north facing entryway opens onto a small terrace that connects with the secondary stairway that rises up from the Great Plaza. The upper level of the structure contains several chambers.
Structure 1c is found on the northeast side of Plaza A. This is, again, a mostly square structure, this time with a south facing stairway. Excavations have uncovered a beautiful pair of large, Late Pre-Classic masks that flank an earlier sub-structure. The masks have human faces, and are well preserved.
Another structure is located on the east side of Plaza A between Structures 1 and 1c. This structure exhibits a low platform upon which the remains of a chamber, or chambers are located. A small stairway faces the plaza. Several large ceramic pieces have been recovered from here.
Set upon the Great Plaza level at the northeast corner of the Structure 1 platform is the Residential Palace Complex. This complex contains two adjoined structures which face to the east. The north structure has three, low stairways that lead up to a small terrace. At the back of the terrace are a series of three double-room suites that face onto the terrace. The remaining walls are about 5 feet/1.5 meters in height. The rear rooms open onto enclosed courtyards. The south structure has a high stairway that leads up to a platform structure containing a large, two-room suite. A rear entryway opens onto a small courtyard. Smaller chambers are attached to the sides of the structure at the plaza level. Other low platforms are associated with the complex and extend into the Great Plaza. The complex exhibits an architectural style similar to that seen in the Rio Bec area 60 miles/100 kms to the east.
Structure 2 is located on the west side of the Great Plaza. This is a pyramidal structure set upon a platform base and rises about 75 feet/23 meters off the plaza floor. It has been partially excavated and investigated. The platform base measures about 326 feet/100 meters on its north/south axis, with the base having a height of about 32 feet/10 meters. A plaza facing stairway leads up to the top of the platform onto a terrace where an eroded stela, Stela 1, has been discovered lying upon the surface. A pyramid structure is set at the back of the terrace.
A single stairway rises from the terrace floor to the summit terrace of the pyramid. A further short flight of steps leads to a Post Classic temple. An interesting Pre-Classic mask/frieze was discovered at the base of the temple, and features a zoomorphic being. Three offerings of flint knives were recovered around the base of the stela and upon the stairway that reaches up to the Post Classic temple.
Situated in the middle of the Great Plaza between Structures 1 and 2 is the Ball Court, Structure 5. This structure is of typical design of two parallel structures with sloping walls facing a playing field alley between them. It is set on an east/west orientation having open “end zones”. The structures have been excavated and restored. Stairways access an upper level which may have held structures of a perishable nature. The Ball Court exhibits different construction phases dating from the Late Pre-Classic to the Post Classic.
The east side of the Great Plaza is mostly taken up by a very long platform base housing five structures. This structure also forms the west side of the Grand Plaza, Plaza 2. The platform base measures about 670 feet/206 meters x 163 feet/50 meters. It reaches a height of about 32 feet/10 meters. The five structures are identified as Structures 3a-3e, all being of a pyramidal design, though of different sizes. They all had a temple constructed of perishable materials upon the summit.
Structure 3a is located at the north end of the platform base. It takes the form of a 19 foot/6 meter high pyramid base accessed by a west facing stairway onto a terrace. From there another stairway leads up 13 feet/4 meters to a level summit which contained a temple.
Structure 3b is the largest of the five structures reaching a height of about 65 feet/20 meters. It is thought that this structure may have had stairways on all four sides. Its orientation is different from the other four structures, and runs on an east/west axis.
Structure 3c is similar in design and orientation to Structure 3a including the west facing stairway. Structure 3d has a height of about 26 feet/8 meters with a stairway facing east onto the Grand Plaza, Plaza 2. Structure 3e holds down the south end of the platform base, and is the smallest of the five. It too, has an east facing stairway.
Structure 3 (mounds a-c) forms a grouping with what has been called an “E Group” with Structure 2. This type of complex had astronomical associations used in determining the solstices and equinox. The temple atop Structure 2 aligns with both Structure3b and the temple atop Structure 4 on an east/west axis, demonstrating that the site was carefully planned out.
As mentioned above, Structure 3 divides the two main plazas, and forms the western side of the Grand Plaza, Plaza 2. This large plaza has near its center an aguada/reservoir. The largest structure group surrounding the plaza is the Structure 4 complex.
The Structure 4 complex is set atop, and alongside, an enormous platform base measuring some 652 feet/200 meters square. It reaches a height of 32 feet/10 meters. The amount of labor and material just to construct this platform base is staggering to the mind.
The Structure 4 complex is oriented to the west facing across the Grand Plaza, Plaza 2, towards Structure 3. Numerous small platforms extend out from the west side of the complex on the Grand Plaza/Plaza 2 level. A broad, central stairway leads up to a platform terrace in front of Structure 4a.
Several structures are located atop the platform which creates its own plaza (and sub-plazas),here called Plaza B. The largest structure is a multi-tiered pyramidal structure, Structure 4a.
Structure 4a is located on the west side of Plaza B. A number of foundation remains are set between it and the terrace stairway. Structure 4a reaches a height of 91 feet/28 meters, and is the tallest structure at the site. A single, rather narrow stairway flanked by balustrades leads up to the summit. The summit is rather broad, and contains the masonry remains of a number of small chambers. An expansive vista across low lying areas is afforded to the viewer.
A sub-structure of Structure 4a was investigated and revealed two anthropomorphic masks on the east side of the structure. These masks were painted in red, cream, and black, and date to the Late Pre-Classic.
A collection of structures that could be called an acropolis is located on the southeast side of Plaza B. These are mostly a maze of low platforms that once housed structures of perishable materials, and were each accessed by a single set of steps.
The east side of Plaza B has three main structures that form a large sub-plaza along with Structure 4a. The east side of the sub-plaza consists of a long, low rectangular platform oriented along a north/south axis. Incorporated within the structure is a large circular sub-structure. The south side of the sub-plaza has a smaller, similar platform oriented on an east/west axis. Again, a circular sub-structure is incorporated within the platform. A low, square altar/dance platform is located on the north side of the sub-plaza. It has steps on all four sides.
The north side of Plaza B has one main structure and three smaller platforms that form another small sub-plaza with Structure 4a. The main structure is a raised platform of about 6 feet/1.75 meters accessed by a broad stairway to a leveled surface. What is interesting to note is that the stairway faces north, away from Structure 4.
Itzamkanac is an impressive site with a fascinating and long history..
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