structures 14&15 courtyard 1                             jaroslaw zralka

inner acropolis                                                  jorge a. de leon

​NAKUM-Peten Department, Guatemala 

Nakum, “House of the Pot” in Yucatek Maya, is an archaeological zone located within the Yaxha-Nakum-Naranjo National Park. Its original name has yet to be definitively identified. The site is situated along the north bank of the Holmul River in the northeastern Peten near the border with Belize. It is roughly 10 miles/17 km north of Yaxha, and 15 miles/25 km east of the great city-state of Tikal. It has a long settlement history that dates back to the Middle Pre-Classic (700-300 B.C.). The site has been heavily looted.

The three sites within the national park have seen extensive investigations and restorations, with Nakum having the greatest number of restored structures in the Peten outside of Tikal itself.

The site is accessible from Flores about 45 miles/73 km east to Yaxha via the CA13. Pick up supplies and water at the entrance to Yaxha. From there it is another 10 miles/17km by four-wheel-drive, horseback, or foot depending on the season. 

HOURS:8 A.M.-5 P.M. everyday
ENTRANCE FEE: $10.40/80 Quetzals-included in organized tours.
GUIDES: guide service at the Yaxha Park entrance or English speaking guides in Flores
SERVICES: Bathrooms, camping area, information center
ON-SITE MUSEUM: none on site
ACCOMMODATIONS: Available in Flores  
GPS: 17d 10’48” N, 69d 21’ 36” W
MISC: Best visited during the dry season, March-June

Nakum has an early settlement history dating back to the Middle Pre-Classic (800-300 B.C.), as evidenced by platforms on the lowest level of the Acropolis and also within the North Sector. Excavations have shown that Nakum was already an important settlement by the Late Pre-Classic (300 B.C.-250 A.D.) with existing structures being remodeled, and new constructions created.

Early Classic (250-600 A.D.) constructions show a Teotihuacan influence which could indicate a subordinate relationship with Tikal associated with the arrival there of Siyah K’ak in 378 A.D. from that great kingdom in Central Mexico. His arrival transformed the political/social dynamics of the Peten and beyond.

There have been 16 stelae (stone monuments), and 11 associated altars recovered so far from the site. Unfortunately, all have been severely eroded by time and climate, their history mostly lost. There has been little information outside of Period Ending dates dating to the Late Classic (600-900 A.D.). Only one stela, Stela 1, has a tentatively named ruler reconstructed as Yax Mun Chaahk, who performed a Period Ending and scattering ritual on, 2 Ahaw 13 Yaxkin (May 29, 815). This would seem to indicate a time of independence as a partial emblem glyph identifying Nakum is present in the inscription.

In September of 693 A.D. a ruler of nearby Naranjo, K’ahk’ Tiliw Chan Chaahk, defeated a polity named Tubal. Lady Unen Bahlam of Tubal was taken in marriage to that ruler, possibly to finalize a new, forced alliance. There is speculation that Tubal may have been the original name of Nakum. However, the time of absolute lordship seems to have come to an end by the mid-point of the 9th century as changing social/political dynamics swept through the region. The last dated stela, Stela2/D2 bears a Period Ending date of, 5 Ahaw 3 Kayab (November 26, 849).

The style of architecture at Nakum in the Late Classic (600-900 A.D.) indicates a continued relationship with Tikal. There was a great expansion of the civic ceremonial center with most of the structures seen today dating from the second half of the 9th century. Its strategic location along the Holmul River allowed it to control, and benefit from, this very important trade route.

Nakum remained an important trade and communication nexus into the early part of the Terminal Classic (900-1150 A.D.) with continued renovations of buildings. This was a time period when many other sites either declined or were abandoned. However, before the end of this time frame Nakum itself was abandoned.

Nakum was rediscovered by the French count Maurice de Perigny in 1905, who returned again in 1910.  Alfred Tozzer and Raymond Merwin of the Peabody Museum arrived in 1913 and took photos and produced a site map. Sylvanus Morley of the Carnegie Institution visited in 1937 and conducted investigations. The next research was carried out by Nicholas Helmuth in 1973. IDEAH and the Triangulo Project in 1989 initiated a program to stabilize, and consolidate structures in danger of collapse. In 1994 a continuation of the project began restorations and further consolidations on 22 structures. To date 28 burials and 31 offerings have been recovered. Investigations and excavations continue under international teams and institutions, including the Nakum Archaeological Project.

Nakum has the greatest concentration of restored structures in Guatemala outside of Tikal. It consists of two main groups that stretch for about .6 mile/1 km on a north/south axis about 5 degrees east of north. They are connected by a wide sacbe named the Perigny Causeway that runs for about 815 feet/250 meters, and is about 98 feet/30 meters wide. Over 36 outlying residential groups have been identified. Researchers have given the larger structures letters, and the smaller structures numerals.

The South Sector has received the most attention and consists of several plaza groups. It is entered from the Perigny Causeway that connects it with the North Sector, and opens up into the Central Plaza.

The Central Plaza is considered the civic/ceremonial heart of the city. Nearly all the stelae and circular altars recovered from the site have been found here. The main structures; Structures A, B, and C, are arranged around this plaza.

Structure A is found on the east side of the plaza, and dates from the Late Classic. It, along with two flanking smaller structures. are placed on a three-tiered, pyramidal platform base about 42 feet/13 m in height. The main structure is a temple containing two linear, vaulted chambers. It is unique in that two, rough semi-circular openings were cut through the interior support wall to connect the chambers. A distinctive, serrated roof comb graces the top of the structure. Six stela and their attendant altars are located in front of the platform at plaza level. The entire structure. along with Structure C form an “E Complex” that was constructed to observe astronomical events such as the equinox and solstices.

Structure C is located opposite Structure A on the west side of the Central Plaza. It is a stepped pyramid construction with a central stairway that leads up to a single chamber temple. A single stela has been recorded at the base of this structure, and records a Period Ending. The date has been reconstructed as 2 Ahaw 13 Yakin, May 29, 815 A.D.

Structure B is on the north side of the Central Plaza. It is an unrestored pyramid/temple construction. Three fragmented stela and two altars have been located in front of this structure.

The Central Plaza contains two other structures of interest. A circular, three-tiered, platform structure, Structure 12, has a diameter of 57 feet/16 meters. It dates from the Late Classic, and may have had associations with the cult of Quetzalcoatl, the Feathered Serpent.

Behind Structure C, on a level lower from the Central Plaza proper, is a ball court plaza containing Structures 7 and 8 forming an open-ended ball court. The structures date from the Late Classic, and show some later remolding. A second ball court has been suggested to exist between Structure C and Structure 12.

The Acropolis is located at the southern end of the Central Plaza, and consists of twelve courtyards and patios surrounded by more than 30 structures. It is set upon a huge, three-tiered platform base measuring 587 feet/180 meters x 489 feet/150 meters, and is about 26 feet/8 meters in height rising above the Central Plaza. It is accessed by three stairways on the north side with the central stairway being about 65 feet/20 meters in width. At the foot of the staircases on the Central Plaza level are found three stelae and two altars.  Stela 2/D2 has a Period Ending date transcribed as 5 Ahaw 3 Kayab, November 29, 849 A.D. This is the latest dated monument at the site. All three staircases lead up to Structure D.

Structure D is an unusually long, range type structure taking up the entire north side of the Acropolis, in effect restricting access to the Acropolis proper. It measures about 375 feet/115 meters in length, and consists of 38 chambers separated into twin parallel vaults.  Five stages of construction and modification have been identified beginning from the Late Classic. The central entryway of Structure D opens onto the main Acropolis courtyard, Courtyard 1.

Courtyard 1 is bounded by Structure D on the north, Structure E on the west, Structure G on the south, and structures 14 and 15 on the east.

Structure E is a truncated, pyramidal structure built on a low platform. It rises 81.5 feet/25 meters on several tiers with a central stairway. A triadic group is situated around a small courtyard on the leveled upper portion of the pyramid. The east facing, central structure is a multi-chambered temple that once exhibited a roof comb. The structure dates from the Early Classic and has a total of ten construction phases. Two small structures appear at the plaza level of the pyramid.

Structures 14 and 15 are low, three-tiered platforms that once housed structures of a perishable nature. Excavations within Structure 15 have revealed two royal burials with one dating from the Early Classic, and the other the Late Classic.

The Late Classic burial, Burial 1, was located within a large masonry crypt and contained an important assembly of grave goods. Over five hundred jade and shell beads have been recovered, along with a polychrome plate featuring the dancing Maize God. Several spindle whorls were included with the grave goods and could indicate that the occupant was a female. The most important item was an incised jade pectoral dating from the Early Classic, most likely belonging to an ancestor of the deceased. The glyphic text reads: “this is the pectoral of the king of Yaxha, Ixim Chan”, and which may suggest a close relationship to that nearby site.

Burial 2 from the Early Classic was located at a lower level within the structure. An additional offering found within the structure consisted of a vessel with three ceramic rings and several stone beads.

A smaller structure was built between the two structures and displays an Early Classic frieze. The frieze depicts a supernatural being flanked by the Hero Twins, who are mentioned in the 16th century Maya book, the Popol Vuh, a priceless, historical narrative.

Structure G is situated on a low, three-tiered platform. It is a two-level structure with each level containing 4 vaulted chambers, the upper level being of smaller dimensions. An interior chamber has remains of a once colorful mural. A central stairway rises from the courtyard level to the first set of chambers. A protruding podium is situated half-way up dividing the stairway in two. Hieroglyphic steps, now eroded, were imbedded in the upper section of the stairway. On either side of the lower stairway remains of stucco relief scenes depicting prisoners were discovered. A mask was observed on the second level in 1913, but has since disappeared. This structure restricts access to a small courtyard and to the Inner Acropolis located behind it.

The Inner Acropolis is located towards the southern end of the Acropolis platform, and its earliest constructions date from the Middle Pre-Classic. The structure is accessed through Courtyard 2, and is set upon its own pyramidal platform base measuring about 179 feet/55 meters square. A north facing stairway leads up to a courtyard, Courtyard 6. At the base of the stairway, and within the pyramidal platform, are the remains of a Pre-Classic frieze that adorned a triadic group of structures. Courtyard 6 houses 4 structures, the largest being Structure Y on the south side of the courtyard.

Structure Y is a two-story structure considered the royal residence of the site’s dynastic ruling family. Its final construction and renovation dates to the end of the Late Classic, and consisted of eight vaulted chambers supporting a roof comb.  Incised Late/Terminal Classic graffiti has been discovered within the structure.

Structure N is located on the southwest side of Courtyard 5 at the rear of the Acropolis. This palace type structure is set upon a three-tiered platform, and contains numerous chambers. A bi-level central stairway, divided by a podium, leads to the upper floor. There are three entryways that open into the inner chambers. The lower levels of the platform also contain small, single chambers.

A Temazcal, or steam bath, is located within the Acropolis, and is identified as Structure 26. It is the best-preserved steam bath found in Guatemala. A single entryway leads into a corbeled roofed chamber containing benches. The structure separates Patios 8 and 9.

To the east of the Acropolis is located the South East Plaza. The main structure here, and the tallest at the site, is Structure U located on the east side of the plaza. It is an imposing pyramid with a central stairway leading up to a single-chamber temple. A stela, Stela 3/U is located at the base of the pyramid. It depicts a ruler standing atop a captive, and holding what may be a fan. A date has been reconstructed to 13 Ahau 18 Kumku, January 29, 771 A.D., and depicts a Period Ending ritual.

Between the Acropolis and the Holmul River are four small plazas at lower levels. They are considered to be of a residential nature.

Behind Structure A and the Central Plaza is the East Plaza. The main structure here is Structure V, and is located on the east side of the plaza. This structure consists of a small pyramid flanked by two platforms which may have held structures of a perishable nature. A central stairway rises up to a single chambered, vaulted temple.

The North Sector is accessed from the Perigny Causeway. The Causeway itself leaves the Central Plaza on a northwest axis. This group exhibits extensive evidence of Pre-Classic settlement activity.

The North Sector is centered around a large plaza, here called the North Sector Plaza, and surrounded by three groups of structures, including several individual structures. They are of various size, and in different degrees of preservation and excavation. The most important group is the North Group.

The North Group is a large, multi-tiered platform about 19 feet/6 meters in height housing several structures, and had its beginnings in the Late Pre-Classic. It is in some respects a smaller version of the Acropolis in the South Sector. A central stairway leads up to Structure W from the North Sector Plaza, and is similar in design and use to Structure D in the South Acropolis, but with much smaller dimensions. A wall of one of the 14 chambers contains an interesting example of Maya graffiti.

A number of Pre-Classic offerings were located at the base of the stairway leading up to Structure W. These included jade beads and ornaments, a mantra spine, and ceramic discs. An interesting find is a hollow, ceramic drum exhibiting a small central opening with the ends of the drum having removable lids. This piece has been identified as a hand-molded bee hive. Bee keeping and honey production were important economic activities of the Maya.

The rear of Structure W opens onto a courtyard. The east and west sides of the courtyard are flanked by low platforms that most likely held structures of a perishable material. The main structure of the North Group lies at the north end of the courtyard, and is identified as Structure 99.

Structure 99 is set on its own raised platform and consists of a triadic arrangement of three structures accessed by a central stairway. These structures had low masonry foundations which supported a superstructure of perishable material. The main structure consisted of five interconnected chambers.

The central area of the North Sector Plaza has two structures, Structure X and Structure 96, that face each other across the plaza. It has been suggested that they combined to act as an “E Group”, similar to what has been observed in the Central Plaza of the South Sector. Excavations have revealed that both structures exhibit evidence of Middle Pre-Classic (800-300 B.C.) architecture.

The structure on the east side of the plaza is identified as Structure X. This structure is the only pyramid/temple construction in the North Sector. It is flanked by two adjoining platforms. A central stairway leads up to a leveled summit which contained three structures arranged in a triadic pattern such as is found at Structure E in the South Sector. Located at the foot of the stairway are a plain stela, Stela E1, and a circular altar. An offering of 25 eccentric flints was located within this area.

Structure 96 is located on the west side of the plaza across from Structure X. This structure is a low platform that most likely held a structure of perishable materials. Between it and Structure 99 a Late Pre-Classic stela, Stela 4, has been recovered.

South of Structure 96 is the West Group. This group of several structures is set upon a raised platform and has received little attention. It is considered to be a residential complex with a range type structure limiting access to an interior courtyard. A recent discovery of a bench having inscribed glyphs was identified within Structure 89 which has been severely damaged by looter’s trenches.

The East Group/Merwin Group is located at the southeast corner of the North Sector Plaza, and borders the causeway entrance into the plaza. The complex is set upon a huge, raised platform and is considered a residential complex. Fourteen structures have been identified within the complex, and are arranged around a rectangular courtyard. Investigations have revealed Late Pre-Classic activity and architecture.  A ball court complex has been suggested between the East Group and Structure X.

Across from the Merwin Group on the west side of the causeway entrance is found Structure 82, a small unexcavated mound. A stela, Stela 5/14, was imbedded in steps at the front of the structure. The stela depicts two standing individuals facing each other, and holding staffs/spears. A tentative date of 6 Ahau 18 Mol, June 24, 810 A.D. has been ascribed to the stela, and still retains traces of red and blue paint. This structure most likely held a position of importance within the North Sector, possibly the residence of one of the two standing figures. Further investigations and excavations will undoubtably provide more information. A quarry was identified to the east of the North Sector in 2014. It still contains an unfinished monument in situ.

The numerous stelae, altars, and royal burials dating from the Pre-Classic into the Late Classic attest to the important position Nakum held in the eastern Peten.  Interesting stuff!

structure A rear c1913                                        alfred tozzer.

temazcal                                                          jorge a. de leon

burial 1 spindle whorls                                         jaroslaw zralka

burial 2 ceramics                              jaroslaw zralka

structure 15 ring offering                                      wieslaw kozkul

structure 99 reconstruction                          kaseja/kozinska


south sector site plan                                  piotr kolodziejczyk

share your photos with us

structure D courtyard 1                                        jorge a. de leon

burial 1 pectoral drawing                               simon martin

north sector site plan                                 jaroslaw zralka

central plaza looking south to structure D c1913                     alfred tozzer

structure E courtyard1                                       simon burchell

structure 99 summit foundations                         jaroslaw zralka

structure A front c1913                                       alfred tozzer.

structure C central plaza                                            alfred tozzer

structure W graffiti                                    jaroslaw zralka

south sector reconstruction                              breitner/gonzales

stela 3/U southeast plaza               slabonski/helmke                                      

structure V  east plaza c1913                                alfred tozzer

north sector reconstruction                                  telma/breitner

structure N Courtyard 5                                   patrick-creusere

structure X eccentric flints                          jaroslaw zralka

structure E courtyard 1                                           jorge a. de leon

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

burial 1 ear flares                                           jaroslaw zralka.

ceramic beehive structure W                              jaroslaw zralka

quarry north sector                                            jaroslaw zralka

inner acropolis stucco frieze                          calderon/hermes

burial 1 ceramics                           robert slabonski

structure Y graffiti                               katarzyna radnicka

structure 99                                                     wieslaw kozkul

burial 1 pectoral structure 15                     jaroslaw zralka

inner acropolis reconstruction                             eduardo gonzalez

structure U and stela 3                                       robert slabonski

burial 2 structure 15                                         jaroslaw zralka

structure E courtyard 1 c1913                             alfred tozzer

structure A Central Plaza                                   jorge a, de leon

courtyard 9 structure R and temascal​                     jorge a. de leon

structure E courtyard 1                                 jorge a. de leon .