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Underwater archaeologists will explore the last bastion of Maya independence in

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« on: June 18, 2018, 01:16:06 pm »

Underwater archaeologists will explore the last bastion of Maya independence in Guatemala

Photo: M. Krzemień
Photo: M. Krzemień
Polish underwater archeologists will study the relics of the last of the pre-Columbian Mayan capital located on Lake Petén Itzá, Tayasal - the last bastion of Maya defense against European conquerors. They expect cult vessels and traces of battles against conquistadors.

Tayasal was the capital of the last free ancient Maya state, which resisted the attacks of European conquerors for almost 200 years after their arrival in Central America. It was located on a peninsula on the large Lake Petén Itzá in Guatemala.

Research will start in August. One of the goals is to collect the traces of the great battle that took place in 1697, as a result of which the last independent Mayan stronghold fell.

"To capture the city, the Spaniards released numerous galleys to the lake, from which they attacked the Maya with both projectiles and firearms. Numerous artefacts certainly rest at the bottom of the lake. They will allow to reconstruct this battle that was very important for the history of Mesoamerica" - says the leader of the Polish team, archaeologist from the Jagiellonian University in Kraków, Magdalena Krzemień.

Polish divers are also interested in the ceremonial sphere of the Maya. This is an opportunity to learn more about it, because there used to be places of worship where bodies of water are today.

"Water, an element of the Mayan sacred landscape, had a unique symbolic meaning for the members of this civilization - it was perceived as a medium, through which the dead crossed to the underworld" - explains Krzemień.

Water bodies were also perceived as places closely associated with Chaac - a rain deity that controlled rainfall, and hence also yields.

"It is not surprising that the Maya paid special attention to Chaac and offered him numerous gifts. Chaac lived in the caves, both dry and flooded ones, hence a large number of various kinds of sacrificial offerings deposited in water reservoirs over the centuries" - adds the project leader.

"The proposed project is innovative, it will be the first comprehensive underwater research in this part of Guatemala, and one of the few such research projects in the whole country in general" - believes Krzemień.

Divers, including explorers from the U.S. and France, searched for monuments in this lake in previous decades. Each time they would find numerous objects, including antique pottery. However, their work area was limited, and the total area of the lake is nearly 100 km2.

Scientists will also try to verify a popular legend. According to the story, the Maya carved a stone figure of the horse of the famous conquistador, Hernán Cortés. It is believed to rest at the bottom of the lake.

The results of similar projects carried out in other water reservoirs in Guatemala speak for the need to study Lake Petén Itzá. Artefacts discovered to date include beautifully decorated ceremonial vessels, stone grinders, anthropomorphic censers - cult vessels in which incense was burned during rituals. Even architectural elements have been discovered: basalt columns found in Lake Los Organos.

The research project will take four weeks. Archaeologists hope that they will be able to continue their research in the following years. The project is financed from private funds by Sebastian Lambert, Joerg Hahn, Ampliz and POL-KOP, and by the Consultative Council for the Students` Scientific Movement of the University of Warsaw.

PAP - Science in Poland, Szymon Zdziebłowski

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