New Magic of the Mystical Maya Unearthed

Photos and article by Eleanor S. Morris

For some adventurous couples, romance in Mexico's Yucatan can mean exploring ancient Mayan ruins just recently unearthed.

MEXICO - Yucatan. Those mystical Mayans, who were they and how andwhy did they so suddenly disappear after covering the Yucatan Peninsula with innumerable cities of stone? Extensive cities of pyramids and temples, ball courts and castles, some dating from Pre-Classical Period 100BC to 300 AD to Late, Classical Period 700-1500 AD, many still buried under mounds of earth and covered with trees and other vegetation.

Archaeologists have puzzled for centuries about these mysterious people, who left almost no trace of themselves but left magnificent ruins like well-known Chichen Itza and Uxmal. And now two more extensive settlements are being uncovered from the earth that hides them, Ek'Balam and Oxkintok.


The name seems to mean "Black Jaguar," and the site is some 35 miles northeast of Chichen Itza. Research dates the occupation of Ek'Balam as far back as the late pre-classic (100 BC to 300 AD) and early classic (400-600 AD) with the site attaining prominence from 700 to 1000 AD. A defensive wall was built around the city, suggesting that it was a prudent measure against threats from nearby imperial Chichen Itza. The entrance is a sort of sentry box, with an arch that you can walk through on each of the four sides. This leads to The Acropolis, with Structure 1, also called the Palace of the Nuns, directly facing you as you go through the arch. On each side of the Acropolis are low walls that perhaps bordered a ball court.

If you're energetic, you can climb the many narrow steps to the top of the Palace, but if you stop halfway up and look to the left, you'll see all sorts of carved statues sheltering under a temporary thatched roof. Other imposing buildings to see are the Tower and a set of connecting matching buildings called The Twins. Nobody knows where the Maya went, nor why, but one theory is that abandonment was due to political infighting, causing the populace to spread out into the countryside. (And even today you can see the distinctive Mayan profile on some of the region's inhabitants.)


This important archaeological site is only 18 miles from Uxmal. The name can be translated as "three suns that burn," and the city flourished from the Early Classic to the Terminal Classic, from 300 to 1050 AD. The zone is made up of three complexes, Dzib, May and Canul. One of the most arresting buildings is Tzot Tun Tzot, which means the Labrynith or The Lost One. The building is made up of three levels, with only one entrance.

This leads to a series of long narrow rooms, all on different levels (be sure to duck you head, and keep track of where you're going, when you enter to trace the labrynth--it's a challenge.) The rooms are reached by narrow stairways and entered through small openings--as you wind your way in the gloom, you'll realize that the building lives up to its name of labrynth!

Structure 1, The Pyramid, is the tallest in the civil ceremonies group, part of the May Group. The Ch'ich Palace in the Canul Group stands out with its 10 rooms and facade. Another of the main interest in this site is the hieroglyphic writing on several of the monuments. The architecture of the site is considered a splendid example of the Puuc style. Oxkintok turns out to be one of the oldest cities in the Yucatan. Inscriptions found here have provided valuable information on the Mayan culture. But archaeologists still have no clear answer to the question: where did all the mysterious Maya go?

Wednesday, May 7, 2008

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