|26 February 2004
Window on an ancient world in Guatemala
Kaminaljuya Park is a rare undeveloped area of Guatemala City, which is providing evidence of the Mesoamerican city which was occupied here from 1000 BCE until its abrupt abandonment around 800 CE. Little is known about the site, despite it being a major population centre of the ancient Americas.
Much of Kaminaljuya was destroyed during the expansion of Guatemala City, which was founded when Guatemala's former capital was destroyed by an earthquake in the 1700s.
Kaminaljuya translates from the Mayan as "Hills of the Dead" reflecting the many burial mounds in the area. The city was founded in the early highland Mayan tradition, but grew into a multi-ethnic settlement with influences from other cultures. Buildings first discovered in the 1950s show a similar style to those found at Teotihuacan 700 miles to the north in Mexico. Interestingly, after Teotihuacan was abandoned in the late 600s, Kaminaljuya flourished until it too became derelict around 200 years later.
Archaeologists from Brigham Young University and other U.S. institutions, together with experts from Guatemala's Universidad del Valle, hope to discover whether Kaminaljuya's architectural style was copied from its northern neighbour, or if an army from Teotihuacan moved south and took over the city.
The international team dug dozens of 30-foot-deep test holes between July and December last year, which have revealed carvings of human faces and even a human hand clutching money. They hope Guatemala's newly elected government permits them to tunnel inside the buildings next season.
Zachary Nelson, a graduate student at Pennsylvania State University, believes the buildings could hold the key to understanding the people of Kaminaljuya: "We were hoping, through the test digs, to find more examples of monuments with writing on them."
George Cowgill, an archaeologist at Arizona State University who is not involved in the project, said the Teotihuacan influences found at Kaminaljuy had sparked controversy, but noted: "People are arguing without a whole lot of data."
This controversy could be cleared up by further excavations of the buildings, but the new government may decide to preserve the park as it is for future generations.
Source: Salt Lake Tribune (24 February 2004)
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