Scientists studying the history of the Maya people have adhered to the theory that the ancient civilization evolved gradually, starting with small villages emerging during the Middle Preclassic period, and only progressing to more monumental structures at a later date.
A team of scientists have conducted a spate of excavations, supported by airborne mapping at a previously unknown site in Mexico, called Aguada Fénix, to reveal a raised ceremonial structure made of clay, which they claim is the oldest and largest known of all structures built by the ancient Maya people.
The structure was constructed from around 1000 B.C. to 800 B.C., according to a study, led by archeologist Takeshi Inomata of the University of Arizona in Tucson and his colleagues, and entitled “Monumental architecture at Aguada Fénix and the rise of Maya civilization”. A report on the findings was published in Nature on 3 June.
The site is located in part on Rancho Fénix (Phoenix Ranch) in Tabasco, Mexico, at the western edge of the Maya lowlands.
Due to the presence of artificial reservoirs, called aguadas, in the area, the researchers dubbed the site Aguada Fénix.
Researchers estimated this platform took 3.2 million to 4.3 million cubic meters of earth and clay to create.
Nine causeways radiate from the platform, with the longest these stretching 6.3 kilometers.
The causeways suggest the platform “is just the central precinct of a very, very, very large place,” Thomas Guderjan, president of the Maya Research Program, who did not take part in this research, was quoted as saying.
As for the purpose of the platform, the team of scientists believes it was “used for rituals involving lots of people.” This is borne out by artifacts such as jade axes the researchers found at the site. After approximately 800 B.C., Aguada Fénix and nearby sites were abandoned by the Maya.
With maize becoming increasingly important, claim researchers, people may have moved to higher, better-drained terrains.
Earlier Theories Challenged
The discovery of the grandiose ceremonial structure, roughly 1.4 kilometers long, 400 meters wide and 10 to 15 meters high, raises questions regarding both the size and timing of large settlements in Central America.
The research also feeds into recent evidence also uncovered by Inomata’s team that disputes the theory that Maya society developed gradually from small villages to urban centers with pyramids and other massive buildings – a theory earlier suggested by some scientists.