Tikal




Tikal

Site Information

Country: Guatemala
State: Peten Province
Location: 17° 13' 19" N - 89° 37' 25" W
Field Documentation Date(s): November 17th, 2005
Project Release Date(s): November 3rd, 2006
Time Range: 800 BCE - 900 CE
Era: Middle Preclassic, Late Preclassic, Early Classic, Late Classic, Terminal Classic
Culture: Maya
Site Authority: Instituto de Antroplogia e Historia, Guatemala
Heritage Listing: UNESCO World Heritage Site
world map with location

3D point cloud of the ball court to the south of Temple I in the Great Plaza, created from photo-textured laser scan data

Site Description

more

The ancient Maya city of Tikal is located deep in the heart of Guatemala's El Petén rainforest with a towering canopy that floats thirty meters above the ground. The ancient city site is one of the largest ancient Maya sites, and today exists as a 222 square mile protected national park that is sanctuary not only for archaeological monuments, but also for endangered wildlife such as ocelots, peccaries, monkeys, toucans, parrots, and the elusive jaguar among many more rare creatures. Tikal is bounded by rivers to the east and west that drain respectively to the Caribbean and to the Gulf of Mexico. This geographical condition strategically poised Tikal to become a great trade, religious, and political center that dominated the region at times during the Classic Period, ca. 200CE to 850CE. To the east and west of the urban center, wetlands provided fertile areas for agriculture. Water conservation and management was key to survival in this urban area, and Maya infrastructure engineering devised ingenious culvert and reservoir systems for water diversion and storage to maintain constant supplies in a climate of cyclical rainfall. Tikal's ceremonial nodes are connected by another form of Maya infrastructure called sacbes which are raised causeways or roads paved with lime-based cement.

Tikal contains thousands of archaeological sites of which only a small portion have been excavated. To date 3000 have been uncovered and some 10,000 remain to be explored. The monumental core spreads out over 16 sq km (6 sq mi). Central to the site is the Great Plaza bounded by the North Acropolis to the north, with the Central Acropolis to the south and Temple I and Temple II to the east and west. Temples I and II were both built during the time of Jasaw Chan K'awiil I, or Ah Cacao 682-734 CE. Far to the west, visible on the horizon from the top of Temple I, Temple IV rises 70m (230ft) above the rainforest floor, its crest hovering above the forest canopy. Temple IV was the second largest structure in the New World until the first skyscrapers were built in North America. The pyramid of La Danta at El Mirador, 55km to the north of Tikal, was the tallest at just under 73m (237ft). In addition to its tall monumental temples and other works of architecture, Tikal is renowned for its carved inscriptions, stelae, and polychrome ceramics of exceptional artistic quality.
return to top


History

more

Tikal is the largest city of the ancient Maya civilization's Classic period. It is estimated to have had a peak population of 100,000 to 200,000 with an urban density of 600 to 700 people per square kilometer. This major population, cultural, and trade center dates from the 4th century BCE. It reached its height during the Classic Period, extending from 200 to 850CE. During that time Tikal was the pre-eminent political, economic, and military power in the Mayan region. It had trade and cultural relations as far away as Teotihuacán in central Mexico. In the 4th century, Tikal was seemingly subjugated by Teotihuacán for a brief period. However, Tikal's predominant influence, relations, and animosities were with the neighboring Maya lowland states of the Yucatan peninsula and beyond: Uaxactun, Dos Pilas, Naranjo, Calakmul and Caracol. An alliance between these last two polities defeated Tikal militarily in 562CE, deposing Tikal as political center for the region. The period following this defeat (late 6th to late 7th centuries) is known as the Hiatus; no monumental constructions, inscriptions, stelae, or other elite-associated artifacts have been found at Tikal from this time. During the first part of the Late Classic period beginning in the late 7th century CE, Tikal experienced a resurgence during which some of its most memorable monuments were built. Temple I entombed the ruler Jasaw Chan K'awiil I (a.k.a. Ah Cacao, 682-734CE) who was celebrated for his military triumph over Calakmul in 711. Temple II entombed his wife, Queen Twelve Macaw, following her death in 704. Temple IV far to the west commemorates the reign of Yik'in Chan K'awiil, son of Jasaw Chan Kawiil I. An inscription on the lintel of Temple IV, the only temple with no known tomb, notes the date 750CE.

Following the Late Classic period Tikal experienced a decline. There is little evidence and much well researched speculation as to the cause. There are signs that after some point the water storage infrastructure ceased to be maintained and palaces of the elite were burned suggesting social collapse. The site was gradually abandoned by the end of the 10th century. This occurred more or less contemporaneously with the abandonment of other Maya centers throughout the lowland jungles, as post-Classic sites in the northern Yucatán such as Chichén Itzá began to come into their own fluorescence. However, Tikal was never completely lost. Even in its ruined state, living Maya peoples used it from time to time for religious purposes, and it was probably somewhat inhabited into the 18th century. Accounts appeared in early Spanish texts beginning in the 17th century of a fabled city of stone in the Petén. In 1848 a formal expedition conducted by Modesto Mendez and Ambrosio Tut located the site, and their findings were published by the Berlin Academy of Science in 1853. The first concerted work of archaeological study was carried out by Alfred P. Maudslay in 1881 and 1882. An increasing flow of foreign archaeologists such as Teobert Maler, Alfred Tozzer, Sylvanus Morley, Merle Greene Robinson, Michael Coe, and Robert Sharer has occurred since then, supported by institutions such as Harvard University, Carnegie Institution, University of Pennsylvania, and Stanford Universty. Established in 1979 by the Guatemalan government, the Proyecto Nacional Tikal has been the authority managing and overseeing all excavation and on site research.
return to top


Perspective of a line drawing of the roof comb and vault of Temple IV

Project Narrative

more

In November of 2005, a team from the University of California at Berkeley traveled to the site of Tikal in Guatemala to conduct a pilot project to demonstrate the advantages of digital documentation techniques and how they can be applied to Temple IV, all in order to produce basic spatial data that would support current condition assessment and restoration activities. The project took place simultaneously with a UNESCO World Heritage workshop for the conservation of Temple IV. The HDS, panoramic photography, HDR photography, traditional Total Station survey, and time-lapse photography collected by the UC Berkeley project were all demonstrated at the workshop. The project was funded by the UNESCO World Heritage Center with support from the Kacyra Family Foundation.
return to top


3D point cloud of Temple II, created from photo-textured laser scan data

Preservation

more

The Petén area is facing deforestation as a result of unsustainable agricultural practices and government projects to dramatically increase the number of highways and tourist areas, threatening this Maya region. Tikal itself has been a national park since 1955, and with the added recognition of UNESCO in 1979 it has become a symbol of pride and has acquired one of the best and largest staffs in the country to ensure its protection and the preservation of its structures. However, the local population continues to dramatically increase as people flee economic destitution and violence in the highland areas, and illegal settlements surrounding and within the boundaries of the site have added a great deal of pressure. Though Tikal is Guatemala's number one tourist attraction, there has been irreparable damage to buildings and monuments, a garbage and waste management problem now exists, and disruption to the natural habitat of many bird and animal species of the park is occurring.
return to top


Area Descriptions

more
Central Acropolis
Great Plaza
Ball Court
Temple I
Temple II
North Acropolis
Temple IV

Central Acropolis

Central Acropolis Description:

A complex of range-type structures that grew from the Late Preclassic until the city's abandonment in the Terminal Classic period. Most of its buildings are a "palace" type, used for daily functions of the royal court.


return to area list


Great Plaza

Great Plaza Description:

This heart and center of the city of Tikal is dominated by Temples I and II, flanking the east and west sides. Numerous monumental stelae in the Great Plaza bear glyphic inscriptions about historic events.


return to area list


Ball Court

Ball Court Description:

An open court, originating in Mesoamerica, used to play a game known as tlatchli. This ball court is located next to Temple I and the Central Acropolis.

The game was played both recreationally and for ritual sacrifice. It involved a heavy natural rubber ball and solid wood bumpers located around the players’ waists. It is thought that the losers of the game were sacrificed but human sacrifice in the Maya lowlands never reached the mass scale later practiced at locales such as Aztec Tenochitlan.


return to area list


Temple I

Temple I Description:

Located in the Great Plaza, this mortuary temple was built for Tikal's 26th ruler, Jasaw Chan K'awiil. The building date is unknown as it is unclear if Jasaw built it before his death or if his son, Yik'in, constructed it in honor of his deceased father.

In contrast to Egyptian pyramids, to which they are often erroneously compared, Maya 'step pyramids' served numerous functions besides mortuary ones, and were constructed not from large, solid stone blocks but from smaller, cut stone blocks on top of a rubble-fill core.


return to area list


Temple II

Temple II Description:

The eighth-century Tikal king Jasaw Chan K'awiil commissioned Temple II, and possibly Temple I, during his reign. Temple II is dedicated to his wife, Lady Twelve Macaw (died 704 A.D.), and she is interred within it.

Though its roof comb is now eroded, Temple II has also been known as the Temple of the Masks because its upper frieze was once adorned with gigantic stone and stucco masks. Roof combs were used as grand billboards for the display of religious and political imagery.

In contrast to Egyptian pyramids, to which they are often erroneously compared, Maya 'step pyramids' served numerous functions besides mortuary ones, and were constructed not from large, solid stone blocks but from smaller, cut stone blocks on top of a rubble-fill core.

As Tikal today receives a great number of visitors annually, preservation of the original structures has become a priority for site authorities. The fragility of the original stairs of Temple II, which have also seen a number of accidents over the years due to their steepness and lack of handrails, have caused site management to close them off to visitors.


return to area list


North Acropolis

North Acropolis Description:

Along the edge of the Great Plaza, the burials located within the North Acropolis show a glimpse of the individual styles of Tikal as it formed in the Late Preclassic.

The North Acropolis was the focus of the city's religious architecture and the preferred place of royal burial for most of Tikal's history. It includes dozens of overlaid tombs dating back to the Preclassic period. New temples would often be built on top of older ones, encasing the older architecture within.

Under structure 5D-26 was found the North Acropolis’ earliest tomb from the Classic period, dating to the 4th century A.D. Though it had been looted during the Late Classic period, enough evidence remained to determine that the occupant was likely Great Jaguar Paw, ninth ruler in the Tikal dynasty.


return to area list


Temple IV

Temple IV Description:

Temple IV is the tallest structure at Tikal, around 70 meters in height. It stands 70 meters in height and is second in height in the Maya world only to the pyramid of La Danta at El Mirador, 55km to the north of Tikal, at just under 73m (237ft). Two carved wooden lintels from its summit vault record a long count date confirming that Yik'in Chan Kawil, son of Jasaw, commissioned Temple IV in 741 CE.

A tomb has been found in the temple, but evidence is inconclusive as to whether it contains the remains of Yik'in Chan Kawil. Temple IV's 250,000 cubic yards of stone remain largely unexcavated and unrestored, with only the upper third portion and roof comb rising above the jungle canopy. Temple IV is currently in the process of restoration.


return to area list



References:

    more
  1. Darvill, T. The Concise Oxford Dictionary of Archaeology. New York: Oxford University Press, 2002.
  2. Harrison, P. and C. Renfrew, ed. The Lords of Tikal: Rulers of an Ancient Maya City. London: Thames & Hudson Ltd., 1999.
  3. IUCN. "IUCN Review: World Heritage Nomination." Advisory Body Evaluation. 10 April 1979. UNESCO World Heritage Center. 20 January 2006 <http://whc.unesco.org/archive/advisory_body_evaluation/064.pdf>.
  4. McLeod, C. Sacred Land Film Project. Earth Island Institute. 20 January 2006 <http://www.sacredland.org/world_sites_pages/Tikal.html>
  5. Schwartz, N.B. Forest Society: A Social History of Peten, Guatemala. Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Press, 1990.
  6. Sharer, Robert J. The Ancient Maya (6th Edition). Palo Alto: Stanford University Press, 2005.

return to top

Credits:

more     - John Ristevski
     - Rudy Larios
CyArk
     - Anthony Fassero
     - John Mink
            Lead Researcher