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                                                   chris estrada

RIO AZUL-Peten, Guatemala

Rio Azul, Blue River in Spanish, is an Early Classic (200-600 A.D.) site, located in a remote corner of Guatemala near the borders of Belize and Mexico. It is set in a dense tropical rainforest within the Rio Azul National Park, a part of the Maya Biosphere Reserve, 37 miles/60kms northeast of the major site of Tikal. The original name of the site has now been deciphered as Sak Ha Witznal.

Rio Azul is widely known for its elaborately painted tombs. The information obtained from these tombs has provided researchers a unique insight into the Maya of the 5th century. Unfortunately, these tombs are closed to visitors. There is scant glyphic information regarding the rulers of Rio Azul. Only one ruler, Six Sky has been identified from a glyphic passage found in his tomb, and dated to the 5th century. 

There is a well-defined system of hydraulics, as the site was located along a river. Dams, channels, canals and other features have been identified.

 Travel to the site is arduous, and is made via four wheel drive vehicle during the dry season. It is recommended to visit the site through an organized tour. This multi-day tour can be readily arranged, and is usually a side trip combined with Uaxactun.

Flores is generally considered to be the jumping off point for sites in the Peten. It is an island city in Lake Peten Itza and is most easily accessed by air from Guatemala City. From there it is about 40 miles/64 km to Tikal, and then another 13 miles/20kms to Uaxactun. Buses are available from Guatemala to Flores, and on to Uaxactun. Transportation/tours can be arranged from any of these locations. 

 Modern Flores, ancient Tayasal, was the last independent Maya Kingdom to hold out against the Spanish onslaught which finally fell in 1697.Travel to the site can also be made by road west from Belize, or north from Guatemala City. 

HOURS: Hours are flexible, inquire ahead of time
ENTRANCE FEE: information not available
GUIDES: Guides can be arranged at the site
ACCOMMODATIONS: None, though camping is permitted.
GPS: 17d 48' 37" N, 89d 09' 55" W

Rio Azul was first occupied during the Middle Pre Classic (800-300 B.C.). Monumental architecture began to appear at the beginning of the Late Pre Classic (300 B.C-200 A.D.), with the site experiencing its heyday during the Early Classic. 

At the end of the 4th century A.D. the great city/state of Tikal absorbed Rio Azul and established its own ruler.  This provided a strategic and important trade route to the Caribbean, and was part of the expansionist policies of Tikal; the creation of vassal and allied cities to face off against its arch rival Calakmul. 

 There is strong influence of Teotihuacan found at the site. Certain architectural designs such as the talud/tablero style have been documented here. There have also been a number of tombs discovered that contain ceramic styles associated with that great Central Mexican Kingdom, and may even have been the final resting places of high ranking individuals from there as well. 

Tikal was defeated by Calakmul in 562 A.D. and Rio Azul may also have been conquered as the city fell into a steep decline at about this time. The site was resettled in the Late Classic only to face the same collapse as was felt throughout the Lowlands. By 880 A.D. the site was abandoned.

The first reports on the site were produced in 1962 by John Gatling, Richard Adams, and Trinidad Pech. There have been a number of excavation and restoration projects since. 

There are nine major archaeological groups within Rio Azul, along with numerous smaller groups and residential areas. The main core of the site is centered along a north/south axis. The earliest settlement is located outside the current core area. The core area consists mostly of Early Classic structures set in a rather haphazard fashion, containing three main groups. There are over 40 plazas, 700 structures, a ball court, and numerous stelae and altars. 

Group A is the main civic/ceremonial center, and is located at the southwest portion of the core area. The main structure is a large platform upon which 5 temples are located. The main structure is a pyramid/temple that contains a fine roof comb with glyphs. In front of this structure is Stela 1 whose glyphic information is dated to the late 4th century and stands about 19 feet/4.5 meters in height.

Group B is adjacent to Group A in the west central portion of the site. There are two stelae here that record events in the lives of the rulers. Stela 2 is dated to the late 7th century, and Stela 3 has been dated to the Early Classic. Group C is located to the northwest of Group B. 

Group BA-20 is located to the northeast of the site core. This is where the earliest construction, dating from the Late Pre Classic (300 B.C.-200 A.D.) has been discovered. The group consists of four platforms. 

The star attractions here however are the extraordinary tombs found throughout the core site. More than 30 tombs have been discovered. Some of the walls of these tombs are elaborately decorated with glyphic texts, and have provided significant insight into the decipherment of texts and of funerary practices from the Early Classic. 

Beneath the main pyramid in Group A a number of tombs were found. Unfortunately, all had been looted of their contents, but the glyphic texts remain. 

An undisturbed tomb was discovered in 1984. It contained a beautifully painted ceramic pot that at one time held cacao, and was identified as such. This pot has the only known screw top in the Maya area. This is another example of heretofore unrecognized technical innovation that was being developed or incorporated by the Maya. ​