Ancient Lost Treasures & bull; View topic - Mysterious ruins may help explain Mayan collapse

By Dan Vergano

This is one of the exceptionally well preserved buildings discovered at Kiuic. This building dates back to the Late / Classic Terminal (A.D. 800-1000) and is part of the Royal Royal Palace later discovered at the site.

The ancient, or "classic" Maya were part of the Central American civilization best known for stepped pyramids , beautiful carvings and murals and the widespread abandonment of cities around 900 AD in southern Mexico, Guatemala, Belize and El Salvador. They headed for the northern Yucatan, where Spanish conquistadors met their descendants in the 1500s (6 million modern Maya still live in Central America today).

Oppressive heat to add to misery in Harvey disaster areas early this week
Oppressive heat to add to misery in Harvey disaster areas early this week

Past work by the team, led by Bey and Tomas Gallareta of Mexico's National Institute of Archeology and History, shows the Maya had inhabited the Puuc region since 500 BC So why they headed for the coast with their brethren is just part of the mystery of the Maya collapse.

Both the pyramids and the palaces look like latter-day additions to Kiuic, built in the 9th century, just as Maya centers farther south were being abandoned. "The influx of wealth (at Kiuic) may spring from immigration," Bey says, as Maya headed north. One pyramid was atop what was originally a palace, allowing the rulers of Kiuic to simultaneously celebrate their forebears and move to fancier digs in the hills.

When the team started exploring the hilltop palaces, five vaulted homes to the south of the hilltop plaza and four to the north, the archaeologists found tools, stone knives and axes, corn-grinder stones called metates (muh-TAH-taze) and pots still sitting in place. "It was completely unexpected," Bey says. "It looks like they just turned the metates on their sides and left things waiting for them to come back."

"Their finds look very interesting and promising," says archaeologist Takeshi Inomata of the University of Arizona, who is not part of the project "If it really represents rapid abandonment, it provides important implications for the social circumstance at that time and promises detailed data on the way people lived."

Inomata is part of a team exploring Aguateca, an abandoned Maya center in Guatemala renowned for its preservation. "I should add that the identification of rapid abandonment is not easy." There are other types of deposits - particularly ritual deposits - that result in very similar kinds of artifact assemblages, "Inomata cautions, by email.

Bey and colleagues presented some of their findings earlier this year at the Society for American Archeology meeting in Atlanta. The team hopes to publish their results and dig further at Kiuic to prove their finding of rapid abandonment there. "I think you could compare it to Pompeii, where people locked their doors and fled, taking some things but leaving others," Bey says.

Having climbed the "Stairway to Heaven" a few times, Bey can answer one minor mystery, however. Why were not the sites looted so many other Maya sites have been? "The hills are a good climb," he says. "People just did not bother to climb the hills to search the rooms."

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