Ancient City of Naachtun – Heart of the Maya Region
Mayan civilization of Central America was very much advanced and flourishing during the period when Europe was yet in the dark ages. Some suggest that the climate changes could have been responsible for the collapse of the Mayas though several experts tend to disagree.
The Maya of the Classic period started around 250 AD and lived in the area in the Guatemala, Chiapas and the Yucatan Peninsula in Mexico, towards the western area of Honduras, Belize and El Salvador. The ancient city of Naachtun is located in the heart of the Maya region, a kilometre south of the Mexican border towards the far northern area of Guatemala.
This Naachtun city was rediscovered by the western archaeologist Sylvanus Morley of the Carnegie Institution Washington on May 3 in 1922 and is one of the most remote sites of Maya location. Morley had heard of the site from a chiclero, one who collects sap that is used in making chewing gum from chicle trees, by the name Alfonso Ovando.
He was the first who saw the site in 1916. Morley together with Filipino photographers, Juan Sopena had spent around seven days at the site wherein they explored several of the standing buildings and discovered 19 of the Naachtun’s 40 plus stelae.
Calakmul/Tikal – Superpowers of Classic Maya World
The city has also been the subject of only a few fleeting visits for the past 80 years. Inspite of its current isolation, Naachtun seems to be very much in the thick of things during the Classic era where the site lie around 44 km south-south-east of Calakmul and 65 km north if Tikal. These are the two superpowers of the classic Maya world.
Located directly between these two powerful entities, Naachtun besides holding a strategic position was also vulnerable during the frequent wars of that time and control of the city had been seen as an essential prologue to any effort by Tikal or Calakmul to attack the other.
Morley had named the huge Maya city Naachtun due to the site’s dangerous unapproachability where naach means `far’ and tun means `stone’ in Mayan. Naachtun till date is one of the most remote sites in the Yucatan peninsula as well as one of the least known among all the major Classic Maya centres.
Next Western Visitor – Cyprus Lundell
Cyrus Lundell was the next western visitorto Naachtun, who had reached the site on January 5 and spent three days mapping and exploring it with Garcia, a chiclero guide. In the process he also discovered eight new stelae and though Morley and company had reached Naachtun form the south, Lundell had reached it form the north and had mistakenly presumed that he had found a new site of around 20 km north of the Mexico-Guatemala border.
He had named the apparently new site as `Nohoxna’. Towards 1933, presuming that Lundell had found a new site, the Carnegie Institution of Washington had sent an expedition to southern Mexico to find and document the same with members comprising of Karl Ruppert, John H. Denison Jr. and JP O’Neill who spent 12 days in May 1933.
They discovered several new stelae together with other new buildings. O’Neill completed the map of the site which is being utilised till date. When Ruppert, Denison and O’Neill returned from their field and had compared their photos with those of Morley’s earlier expedition, did they realise that Nohoxna and Naachtun were one and the same place.