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XEL HA, Quintana Roo (Yucatan), Mexico
Xel Ha, Spring Water in Yucatek Maya, is a wonderful, seldom visited site across the highway from the better-known tourist resort of the same name. The site has a long settlement history dating from the Late Pre-Classic (300 B.C.-250 A.D.) through the Late Post Classic (1250-1550 A.D.). It served as an important port of trade and as a point of intercultural exchange for larger inland settlements such as Coba.
The site consists of 4 main groups, of which two are open to visitors. It was chosen at a point on the Caribbean that offered an inlet into a sheltered lagoon on the east side, and a large fresh water cenote on the west side. There are caves and underground rivers located here, both of which held important religious and mythological connotations for the Maya. The central area of the site is on a small rise of about 52 feet/16 meters above sea level. There are some nicely preserved murals accessible to visitors at the site.
Xel Ha is located along the Maya Riviera, a stretch of beautiful coastline on the Caribbean side of the Yucatan coast, just off Highway 307. It is about 8.5 miles/13.5 kms north of Tulum, and 27.5 miles/44kms south of Playa del Carmen. The site is also directly across from the southern portion of Cozumel with its important pilgrimage sites such as San Gervasio, and therefore a presumed embarkation point to the island. The distance from the coastal structures to the cenote structures is about 1 mile/1.6 kms, though the core area is much smaller and easily visited.
HOURS: 8:00 A.M.-5:00 P.M.
ENTRANCE FEE: $4.25/80 Pesos
GUIDES: Inquire at Kiosk
ON-SITE MUSEUM: No
ACCOMODATIONS: A vast variety of lodgings and restaurants can be found along the entire coast
GPS: 20d 19’09.00”N, 87d 21’59.55”W
HISTORY AND EXPLORATION
An analysis of ceramics recovered from the site have helped to date the beginnings of the settlement to the Late Pre-Classic. Masonry structures began to appear in the Early Classic (250-600 A.D), and exhibit a Tikal style of architecture. By the end of this period the site had established itself as an important trade port, with outside cultural influences manifested in its surviving murals.
The Late Classic (600-900 A.D.) was characterized with many of the earlier structures carefully covered over and new structures built on top of them. From the Post Classic (1000-1525 A.D.) onward the site experienced a renaissance with new groups of structures constructed, many of them in the East Coast style as exemplified at the more renowned site of Tulum. The site was abandoned shortly after the Spanish conquest of the Yucatan.
There have been no stelae (carved stone markers), hieroglyphic stairways, or other monuments to identify the rulers of the site, or its direct political/economic associations with other settlements. The associations with other settlements have been inferred through ceramic and other physical/stylistic evidence. A sacbe (raised white stone road) leads out from the major inland site of Coba in the general direction of Xel Ha, but a search has turned up no published study to determine the final destination of this sacbe.
Xel Ha was first reported on by Samuel Lothrop in 1924. An important investigation was undertaken by Arlen Chase in 1975. INAH conducted excavations and consolidations in the 1970’s-80’s under the direction of Fernando Robles Castellanos. Investigations and consolidations are ongoing.
There are four main groups found at the site: Group A/Pier Group; Group B/ House of the Birds and the Lothrop Group; Group C/Jaguar Group; and Group D. Group A is located on the coast and is currently closed to visitors. It is a Post Classic group consisting of three structures and low platforms. A defensive wall has been reported on as well.
Group B forms the nucleus of the site, with most of the important structures located here. It comprises numerous structures and sub-groups, and straddles Highway 307, with only those areas on the west side of the highway open to the public. The most impressive structure is known as the House of the Birds/Parrots, and lies a bit to the southeast of the rest of the group. This is a well-preserved palace type structure that has some outstanding preserved murals, and which dates from the Early Classic. The murals are on the remaining interior wall of the palace. Mural 1 faces the north side and consists of two panels separated by an Ahau (lord) glyph. The scenes comprise several red and yellow painted birds/parrots in different poses. There is a red border that encloses each scene.
Mural 2 is on the opposite side of the wall and has 4 panels. The western most panel exhibits a checkerboard design of red, yellow and grey squares. What may be interesting to note here is that the grey pigment that is visible today may have actually been of a plant or mineral based green color when first applied. A chemical reaction over the centuries could have caused this condition. Imagine how much more vibrant this would have originally appeared. The second panel consists of three vertical, red columns.
The third panel is the main panel of the composition. It features an anthropomorphic figure from the chest up and painted in red, yellow and blue. The head is in a forward-facing position having an elaborate, feathered headdress. The figure has bracelets and a necklace, and is stylistically related to the great central Mexican city/sate of Teotihuacan, and may represent Tlaloc, the central Mexican god of rain and warfare.
The fourth panel is too deteriorated to identify. On the west side of the room is a rather interesting doorway design. The structure itself is set upon a raised platform and is currently protected by a palapa roof. It has three rooms in total with the two rooms containing the murals on an east-west axis, and the third room perpendicular on the west end. The west end room was later altered to become a tomb. The structure is less than 30 feet/10 meters from the main highway. During construction of the highway the northeast section of the structure was severely damaged.
Many of the structures one sees today of the Lothrop Group date from the Late Post Classic (1250-1550 A.D.). The group contains simple platforms and bases which supported residences and temples built of perishable materials.
A notable structure of Group B is Structure 136/El Palacio. It consists of numerous construction phases. The first phase was of a large rectangular base with rounded corners, sloped walls, and vaulted ceilings housing two rooms reflecting an Early Classic style. Later additions added other rooms and hallways. It has a broad stairway that runs along its entire length. Late Post Classic construction covered the entire structure, and a residence or temple of perishable materials was built atop. The latter construction has been removed.
The other structure of note is called the Structure of the Pilasters. This is a low platform with the remains of eight pilasters that separated entry points into the structure. It was entered by a single, central stairway. The structure was also completely covered over in the Late Post Classic to form a base for residential structures. This later construction has been removed as well.
Group C is situated about a beautiful, fresh water cenote. A .3 mile/.5 km sacbe connected it to Group B. The group dates from the Late Post Classic and has five small temples built on a shared platform forming a small plaza. Its most important structure is the Jaguar Temple. This temple has painted murals on both its interior and exterior walls, one of which features the image of a jaguar. The temple itself is a one room structure with two columns forming three entrances. These structures are all in the East Coast Style.
The last group, Group D is located a little further to the west of the cenote. It consists of six unexcavated structures, and is currently closed to the public.
the palace steve mellard
pilasters steve mellard
lothrop group o. mustafin
house of birds/parrots steve mellard
group C by hjpd
lothrop group steve mellard
mural 1 house of birds steve mellard
mural 2 house of birds steve mellard.
house of birds rear room mural 2 doug anderson
jaguar temple group C gabriela lozano
palace steve mellard
mural 2 house of birds steve mellard
house of birds rear room doug anderson
mural 1 detail steve mellard