Friday, June 8, 2012

Xultun

At the beginning of Guatemala’s Rio Azul (also called the Ixcan River) lies the site of Xultun (“end stone” or “closing stone”), about 17.4 miles northeast of the site of Uaxactun. Recently, Xultun has been a source of Classic period information on the Maya calendar -- as opposed to the codices, which are understood to be Late Postclassic sources.

Setup
Precise descriptions of Xultun have been difficult for the author to find. It has different groups of structures, which have been classified using a combination of numerals and the alphabet. Other than structures, the site has a sacbe, a ballcourt, plazas and -- originally -- around 25 stelae. The largest plaza is in Group A and the largest structure is called B-7. The closer to the center of the site one gets, the more closely built and the larger the structures are.

Brief History
By 396 AD Xultun may have had its own emblem glyph, a kind of glyph that cities used as their names. Around the time of the Early Classic period, Xultun is thought to have been a secondary site under the control of the famous site of Tikal. When Tikal had a cultural explosion in the late 600s, Xultun, along with other sites, displayed similar styles -- as seen in the site’s pottery, architecture and monuments.
However, by the Late Terminal Classic period, Xultun may have become a city under the control of Calakmul. This is because during the Terminal Classic, stelae at Xultun do not have the same kinds of ending glyphs as in the rest of the Tikal dominated area of the time.

Rediscovery
For a while, Xultun was lost to everyone. Then in 1915, a chiclero (chicle harvester) by the name of Aurelio Aguayo rediscovered it. After that, various archaeological digs have taken place there.

The first organization to have a dig at Xultun was the Carnegie Institute of Washington (CIW), which currently has conducted three digs there. During the first dig, which lasted three days, two men -- named C.E. Cuthe and S.C. Morley -- gave the site its name based on a stela they found.

Archaeological Importance
Since its rediscovery, Xultun has been looted many times. There are at least 50 trenches dug by looters, and one stela even disappeared (several others were damaged). Despite the looting, Xultun is not without archaeological significance. An archaeologist named REW Adams found a screw-top jar at the site. And also, last year, archaeologists found murals on the ceiling and walls in a small room that they say come from the 800s AD.

Both the ceiling and wall murals contain human figures, while two walls contain astronomical tables – some painted with red or black paint and some that are cut into the walls. The archaeologists think the tables are connected to the Maya calendar, as they seem to calculate the moon’s cycle and may also calculate Venus’ and Mars’ cycles.

References:

Maya Political Science: Time, Atronomy, and the Cosmos; Prudence M. Rice; 2004

Western Belize & Guatemala: Belmopan, San Ignacio, Caracol, Tikal & Beyond; Vivien Lougheed; 2011

 PubMed: Ancient Maya Astronomical Tables From Xultun, Guatemala

Peabody Museum: Corpus of Maya Hieroglyphic Inscriptions

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