Tikal, Guatemala

Tikal Main Plaza

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Tikal lies deep in the Guatemalan rainforest 300 kilometers north of Guatemala City. At one time it was one of the greatest cities in the world. Today, Tikal is one of the most visited archaeological sites in Central America. It is believed that during ancient Mayan times, Tikal served as a major trade site. This was because Tikal sits on a type of Continental Divide, both the Caribbean Sea and the Pacific Ocean can be reach by river from Tikal.

The area surrounding Tikal is thick in tall tropical hardwoods suchs as mahogany, pimenta, and tropical cedar. All around Tikal there is an amazing amount of wildlife. Parrots and toucans are a common site, and so are jaguars and ocelots. Also, amphibians such as as the alligator, caiman, and meat eating American crocodile are abundant near the ruins site.

The population of Tikal surpassed 100,000 people by 700 AD, and by 800 AD is was thriving architecturally. During the reign of three successive kings in the 9th century, Tikal would reach its peak of architectural, religious, and political development. During this era, construction thrived and incredible monuments were built. By the time of Tikal's collapse in the tenth century, more than 3,000 structures existed, and the city encompassed more than 64 square kilometers. However, archaeologists know that the remains of thousands of more structures from earlier cultures lie just below the surface of the ground.The name Tikal in Yucatec Mayan means “the place of spirits.” Most of what we know about the earliest times in Tikal we know from the excavation of trash dumps in and around Tikal. These trash dumps yield ceramic pieces which are used to identify stages of development, and blocks of time. Much of this was done by using Carbon-14 dating.

Early Tikal was characterized by a small and scattered population that utilized slash and burn agriculture or milpa. These earliest people lived near a swamp, and they reserved the highest hilltops for their most sacred places. This period was called the Eb, and it featured highly finished ceramics for both cooking and serving food.

Hieroglyphic texts tell us that over a period of 6 centuries, directly following the reign of founder Yax Ch'aktel Xok, there were 31 known rulers of Tikal. The earliest hieroglyphic inscription found in Tikal was from the year 292 AD. The last known recorded ruler was in 869 AD. ics for both cooking and serving food. Not much is known about many of the former rulers. We do know that the social life of the royal family centered around the Great Plaza. Social life also centered around the North Acropolis, which was covered in temples and served as as the cosmic center of Tikal. The North Acroplois also served as the place where the kings were buried. Tikal had many apartment type housing units, and they were reserved for the elite. Common people lived very much like the people in the Peten area live today. They live in thatched huts, with palm leaf roofs, with a grain bin in the corner. We know that warfare was common in Tikal, and basically a fact of life. It was especially common during the Early Classical Period. By reading inscriptions we know that there was conflict with neighbors both near and far. It is also believed by archaeologists that a moat existed at both the north and south ends of the city.

Many clues about the relationship between Teotihuacan and Tikal have been unearthed during excavations. Green obsidian that only comes from the area around Teotihuacan has been found in Tikal during various digs. In addition the art styles, architecture, ceramic styles, and mythology was also taken from Teotihuacan. Then sometime around 400 AD, after three generations of ruling Tikal, the lineage called “Jaguar Claw” came to an end, and they were replaced by the great ruler “First Crocodile.” It is believed that by the time First Crocodile took the reigns of the city, the entire region was under direct control of Teotihuacan. Then, mysteriously, sometime before 900 AD, the city would collapse for reasons still not completely understood. However, over population, disease, war, and drought all probably contributed to its demise.