NEWS: Very Early Maya Ceremonial Architecture at Ceibal 6

Standing_on_Ceremony
The most recent issue of Science includes an article on the remarkable finds recently made at Ceibal (Seibal), Guatemala. Excavations there have revealed very early evidence of Maya ceremonial buildings and civic space, dating as far back as 1000 BCE. It’s wonderful and significant work, extending the roots of Maya religious architecture back to the Early Preclassic. Congratulations go out to Takeshi Inomata (my old Vanderbilt classmate and road-trip companion), Daniela Triadan and their colleagues.

Science News article

Link to Science article (subscription required for full access)

“Early Maya Ceremonial Constructions at Ceibal, Guatemala, and the Origins of Lowland Maya Civilization”

Takeshi Inomata, Daniela Triadan, Kazuo Aoyama, Victor Castillo, and Hitoshi Yonenobu

Science, Vol. 340, no. 6131, pp. 467-471

ABSTRACT:
The spread of plaza-pyramid complexes across southern Mesoamerica during the early Middle Preclassic period (1000 to 700 BCE) provides critical information regarding the origins of lowland Maya civilization and the role of the Gulf Coast Olmec. Recent excavations at the Maya site of Ceibal, Guatemala, documented the growth of a formal ceremonial space into a plaza-pyramid complex that predated comparable buildings at other lowland Maya sites and major occupations at the Olmec center of La Venta. The development of lowland Maya civilization did not result from one-directional influence from La Venta, but from interregional interactions, involving groups in the southwestern Maya lowlands, Chiapas, the Pacific Coast, and the southern Gulf Coast.

6 comments

  1. hey i’m curious as to what your view is on the whole maya cultural origins question. do you see it as coming all from olmec cultures; being homegrown; or a blend of both (probably the most likely, i would imagine, given the complexity and cultural borrowings that all human societes employ). but outside of san bartolo, el mirador, and this recent research, are there any other strong indications for maya innovations? thanks for you thoughts!

    • Anytime that the word “origin” comes up in an archaeological discussion, you can bet there are complexities and nuances. No one has ever said that Maya culture evolved in isolation, so even though this new data from Ceibal is very exciting, it still demonstrates that the earliest Maya were networking with their neighbors, including the contemporary Olmec. That’s what we would expect. At the same time it’s hard to deny that some well-known Olmec remains still may be earlier – the site of San Lorenzo for example dates as early as 1200 BCE, seemingly with major monumental architecture and sculpture. So in sum I think this new data is extremely important, but it probably won’t resolve the long-standing debate about the Olmec “cultura madre” model. It’s important to remember, too, that this issue has to be addressed using early data from all over Mesoamerica, including Oaxaca and the Pacific coast.

  2. The varve lines in the photo are revealing. The ash deposit the man is standing on is at least 3 feet thick.
    I suspect that the towns of the Rio Usumacinta watershed are all connected and arguing over who is “first” is just begging for egg on one’s face.

  3. In your comment “… but it probably won’t resolve the long-standing debate about the Olmec “cultura madre” model. It’s important to remember, too, that this issue has to be addressed using early data from all over Mesoamerica, including Oaxaca and the Pacific coast.” I assume you refer to Monte Alban.
    It is not uncommon that cross-polination produces nearly identical inventions in somewhat different cultures that are separated by considerable distances.

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