​​​​​welcome to the mayan ruins website .

codex group structure 103                              eljaguarcillo viajero

structure 1 north temple                              el jaguarcillo viajero

codex style cylinder peten                   LACMA

codex group                                                  eduardo gonzales


east group site map                                             richard hansen

structure 1 stairs                                           eduardo gonzales

coral group                                                   el jaguarcillo viajero

codex style vase peten                 famsi

ballcourt                                                       el jaguarcillo viajero

coral group                                                   eduardo gonzales

codex style vase peten                 harry law collection/justin kerr

codex style vase peten                                                    the MET

structure 59                                                      eduardo gonzales

coral groiup site map       renaldo acevedo

pajaritos group                                                      el jaguarcillo viajero

codex group site plan                        richard hansen

structure 59 south temple                              eduardo gonzales

structure 1 stairway excavations                         richard hansen

structure 27                                                     el jaguarcilli viajero

site map                                                                           hansen

plaza 1                                                                          greg willis

stela 1 drawing                                      richard hansen

structure 1 south temple                                    eduardo gonzales

pajaritos group                                         simon burchell

structure 1                                                   simon burchell

structure 1 central temple west                       eduardo gonzales

structure 1 summit courtyard                                 rony rocael                     

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codex style ceramic peten      kimbell museum of art

NAKBE-Peten, Guatemala

Nakbe, “By the Road” in Yucatek Maya, is a Late Preclassic (300 BCE-250 CE) Maya archaeological zone located within the Mirador basin. Its original name is unknown. The zone is about 8 miles/13 km south of the major site of El Mirador, and is one of the largest sites from this very early period. It has one the earliest ball courts and platform structures in the Maya area.

The site encompasses three significant groups along with numerous residential compounds that surround the site core. The two main groups, East Group and West Group, show signs of settlement from the Middle Preclassic (800-300 BCE). The third group is a notable, elite residential group northwest of the West Group, and dates from the Late Classic (600-900 CE). The site was built atop a limestone hill of about 98.5 feet/30 meters in height, and is surrounded by low-lying seasonal wetlands, and an escarpment.

Nakbe has been heavily looted, with some structures suffering collapse, and the loss of historical data.

Nakbe can be reached from El Mirador or Tikal through organized tours. These can be arranged in the town of Flores or at Tikal, and the itinerary requires a few days. Flores, an island city in Lake Peten Itza, is most easily reached by air from Guatemala City. Modern Flores, ancient Tayasal, was the last independent Maya Kingdom to hold out against the Spanish onslaught. It finally fell in 1697. Travel to Flores can also be made by road west from Belize, or north from Guatemala City.

HOURS: By organized tour
ENTRANCE FEE: Included in tour price
GUIDES: Services can be arranged in Flores or Tikal; guides can be picked up at Carmalita pueblo
ACCOMMODATIONS: Food and lodging found in Tikal and Flores, and provided by tour companies once on the tour.
GPS: 17d40’40”N, 89d 49’48”W
MISC: This is a real adventure requiring hiking and outdoor camping 

Early settlement at Nakbe began around 1000 BCE as attested to by the numerous remains of ceramic sherds found at the site. By the beginning of the Middle Preclassic (800-300 BCE), large mounds measuring around 6-10 feet/2-3 meters in height were constructed using rough cut stones and then covered with a thin coat of plaster. This early construction time frame was contemporary with the important Olmec culture located about 331 miles/533 km to the east. Numerous figurines and whistles have been recovered dating from this time frame.

By the beginning of the Late Preclassic (300 BCE-250 CE) the familiar triadic arrangement of temple structures built atop these large basal platforms began to appear, along with huge masks and decorative panels. Nakbe reached its apogee during this time frame becoming one of the most important sites of its time. The use of very large stones in such structures is referred to as Megalithic construction.

A series of sacbeob (raised white stone roads) connects the different groups and structures within the site. During the Preclassic a sacbe connected Nakbe to El Mirador, 8 miles/13 km distant to the northwest. In the Late Classic a sacbe was constructed to the powerful city/state of Calakmul about 25 miles/40 km to the north, that was rediscovered using LiDAR.

There is little recovered text regarding its rulers, and social/political relationships that Nakbe had with other sites. However, the recovery of obsidian, shell, and flint denotes a well-established, extensive trade relationship extending from the Highlands of Guatemala to the Caribbean coast. Also, the fact that a sacbe has been discovered linking Nakbe to El Mirador, and another to Calakmul would certainly indicate a strong relationship with those two kingdoms, though occurring at separate time periods.

At the end of the Late Preclassic Nakbe, like El Mirador, began a steep decline, and was largely abandoned for reasons not yet understood. The site was resettled in the Late Classic. No major construction took place at this time, but a distinctive pottery style was produced here, as well as at El Mirador, known as “Codex Style”.  By the end of the 9th century it appears that Nakbe was abandoned for good.

Nakbe, along with El Mirador, was first identified in 1930 by aviator Percy Madeira of the University of Pennsylvania, who took aerial photographs of the site. Although Nakbe could be seen from the larger pyramids at El Mirador, it was, strangely, not until 1962 when Ian Graham arrived and conducted initial excavations. He produced a very accurate survey map, as well as naming the site. In the 1980’s and 90’s The Nakbe Project conducted extensive work under the direction of Dr. Richard Hansen.

The structures at Nakbe are for the most part mound-covered with some excavation and restoration work evident. There are two main groups that make up the civic/ceremonial core of Nakbe. These are situated on an East/West axis and are connected by a sacbe. What is thought to be one of the oldest known ball courts in the Maya area is located here.

The West Group is formed of three complexes. The largest of these is set on an enormous basal platform about 33 feet/7 meters in height, with a length of 500.5 feet/180 meters, and a width of around 394 feet/120 meters. This platform houses several structures arranged around a plaza, here called Plaza 1, including the largest structure at the site, Structure 1.

Structure 1 is set at the west side of Plaza 1 and reaches a total height of about 150 feet/46 meters. The main stairway to the summit of Structure 1 is flanked by an enormous stucco mask panel. The mask measures 36 feet/11 meters in length, and over 16.5 feet/ 5 meters in height, and features the Principal Bird Deity which also appears on other masks found within the site. Remains of cream and red paint have been identified on the mask.

The summit courtyard is bracketed by 3 temples forming the standard Preclassic Triadic Complex architectural design. A stairway leading up to the central temple is also flanked by stucco masks.  From the larger, central temple the La Dante Complex at El Mirador can be seen off in the distance. An interesting question here would be what kind of communication from the summits of these pyramids was in play between sites spanning these distances.

Structure 13 is located on the east side of Plaza 1 across from Structure 1. This is an elongated structure typical of the architectural style that included three small temples, and together with Structure 1 formed an “E Complex” designed for astronomical purposes.

In front of the Structure 1 basal platform is a second group set around a plaza, here called Plaza 2, which comprises the east side of the West Group. A quadrangle arrangement of small structures, Structure 18 Complex, is located directly in front of the Structure 1 platform base, and forms the south side of Plaza 2. The complex is built atop a platform 262.5 feet/80 meters by 256 feet/ 78 meters with a height of around 10 feet/3 meters.

The north side of Plaza 2 houses the Structure 27 Complex built upon a raised platform. This complex is another example of the Triadic Complex style of which eight have been so far identified at the site. Structure 27 itself is the largest of the three temple structures and is set on the north end of a summit platform courtyard. The single-chamber temple rests atop its own three-tiered platform base facing to the south with a total height of 79 feet/24 meters. The central stairway of the temple platform is recessed and flanked by two large masks. The temple itself is then accessed by a stairway that is also flanked by two masks. The two smaller structures are located on the east and west side of Structure 27. Two looted tombs were found within the structure. A sacbe, Calzada Kan, begins at the southeast corner of the Structure 27 Complex and runs 1,640 feet/500 meters east to the East Group.

The third complex of the West Group is located in the northwest corner and is an unorganized collection of smaller structures. An important sacbe begins here that runs northwest 1,312 feet/400 meters to the Codex Group, and then continues another 8 miles/ 13 km to the important site of El Mirador.

The Codex group is a Late Classic elite residential area well-known for the large amount of Codex style ceramic sherds recovered there. It is thought that the inhabitants of this specific group were responsible for the production of some of these exquisitely painted ceramics, one of several known locations for this ceramic style.

This ceramic style often depicts historical/mythological scenes painted with fine black lines on a cream/white background, with the lip and base exhibiting a red ring. Below the upper lip of the vessel will often appear a series of glyphs drawn in an order known as the  Primary Standard Sequence (PSS).

The PSS varies in length, but generally describes to whom the vessel belongs, and to what its contents are, along with other information. Shorter bands of glyphs will often identify the individuals portrayed.

The Codex Group is set around several courtyards with the most important structure, Structure 103, located in Plaza A.

Structure 103 is positioned between Plazas A and B. It has been determined to be a palace consisting of eight chambers, four per side, divided by an interior wall. Four burials were recovered during excavations.

 Another sacbe, Calzada Cascabel, runs southwest from the West Group to another residential group.

The West Group connects to the East Group via the Calzada Kan that is about 1,640 feet/500 m in length and 79 feet/24 meters wide, and reaches a maximum height of around 20 feet/6 meters. A seasonal stream runs between the two groups. The group consists of five main complexes, and includes several pyramidal structures and platforms dominated by the Structure 59 Complex.

The Structure 59 Complex is a stand-alone, pyramidal temple complex found on the extreme eastern side of the East Group. It has a height of about 101 feet/31 meters, and features a recessed, west-facing stairway that leads up to 3 small temples in another example of the Triadic Complex. The basal platform measures 420 feet/128 meters by 410 feet/125 meters, with a height of 66 feet/20 meters. Temple structures 58, 59 and 61 make up the Triadic Complex with Temple 59 being the largest at 33 feet/ 10 meters in height, while the two flanking temples have a height of around 16.5 feet/5 meters. To the southeast of the complex is the Group 66 complex which is a smaller Triadic Style version of Structure 59 Complex.

Directly in front of the Structure 59 Complex stairway is the eastern edge of a large complex called Complex 51 after one of its more important structures.

Complex 51 is set on very large platform that includes several structures that ring a central plaza. Structure 47 is a large pyramidal mound with a height of about 59 feet/18 meters located on the west side of the plaza.

Structure 51 rests across the plaza on the east side, and is an elongated platform housing three temples with the central temple reaching a height of 59 feet/13 meters. Together these two structures make up an early “E Complex” that was important for observing astronomical events such as the equinoxes and solstices.

Positioned in front of Structure 51 is a small platform where Stela 1 was located. This very early stela depicts a scene of two individuals, possibly the Hero Twins, facing each other and wearing elaborate costumes referencing the ball game.

Structure 49 is a 26 feet/8 meter high mound located on the north side of the plaza, and is a very early construction dating back to the Middle Preclassic. The south side of the plaza is taken up by a mound, Structure 53. Attached to the south side of the Complex 51 platform is the Structure 75 Complex.

The Structure 75 Complex houses three structures. The structures are set on a platform base that measures around 295 feet/90 meters per side.

Structures 76 and 77 are two-tiered, rectangular platforms that form the ball court playing field and have a North/South axis. Each structure measures around 59 feet/18 meters in length by 39 feet/12 meters wide, with a height of 6.5 feet/ 2 meters.

Structure 75 is a three-tiered platform mound that forms the south end of the ball court. This structure faces north across the ball court playing field and measures around 111.5 feet/34 meters by 33 feet/10 m with a height just over 13 feet/4 meters.

The Structure 75 Complex has a very early date of 500-400 BCE, and is among the earliest known ballcourts in the Maya area. To the west of the ball court is an aguada/reservoir, and beyond that is the Sacbe Palma Superior. A pyramidal mound lies on the west side of the sacbe across from the reservoir.

The Sacbe Palma Superior runs south from the Structure 51 Complex  1,312 feet/400 meters to another elite residential group known as the Coral Group. This group features several plazas. The Benson Plaza has received the most attention from archaeologists and consists of five structures, Structures 200-205, in various states of exploration, excavation, and restoration. Four of the structures form a closed courtyard.

The Cimi group is another elite residential complex. This group is located about 656 feet/200 meters north of the Kan Sacbe, and contains at least ten structures set around three plazas. The structures include vaulted palaces made from finely carved blocks, the facades of which exhibited painted stucco, and were decorated with friezes and carved designs. 

Other residential groups include Cantera, Colonte, and Pajaritos.

updated feb 2024

pajaritos group                                                          eduardo gonzales

west group site map                                          richard hansen

cantera residential group                          el jaguarcillo viajero