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El Mirador

Mirador 300 BC, NGS artistic representation
El Mirador, Photo Gallery


See Dr. Richard Hansen's Lecture in UFM, Preclassic Mirador Basin, Guatemala on Feb 5 2007

Today March 7, 2009, was revealed to the world by Dr. Richard Hansen a large Frieze or Panel, measuring 3 m. high and 4 m wide, that is dated ca. 300 BC, and decorated a Royal pool that formed part of the hydraulics works of the city. The Panel  represents the hero twins Hunahpú and Ixbalnqué, swimming away from Xibalbá, with his father's (The Maize God) head as the Popol Vuh, 19 centuries later relates.

Just north of Tikal, in Petén, northern Guatemala, lies the Mirador Basin region, a 2,156 square kilometers (525,100 acre) of pristine Kan Ahau emblem Glyph, The earlies example is from Miradortropical rainforest surrounding the oldest and largest Maya pyramids, city and temple complexes in the Americas. It contains among other sites to El Mirador, the largest ancient city of the Mayan world and Tintal the second largest. The five major cities in the basin are: El Mirador, Tintal, Xulnal, Nakbé and Wakná.  But there are at least 26 more  cities,  dating from the pre-classic 1000 BC to 300 AD, (In El Mirador an early uncorrected carbon date from a filling in El Tigre complex, of 1480 BC (beta 1964) is not associated with known ceramics of this period and would have been considered erroneous except that several other samples have been recovered from throughout the site from this general time period, including Zea Mais (Corn) from 2,700 BC in Lake Puerto Arturo, nearby.  (Matheny and Matheny 1991) (Wahl, 2004), this suggests that a period of substantial burning may have occurred at that time), making it the first organized political and economic state in the American  Continent that shares the same Kan Ahau emblem glyph, (The Kan Kingdom), with all the other sites in the Mirador Basin, at the same time than the Olmec Culture, earlier thought as the first true civilization, there are Wall in Leon Complexarcheological proof that the Maya in Mirador developed a writing, astronomical, agricultural, economical, warfare, and all theMirador Basin Map Larger sites in Large dots. needed skills that made the Maya, the most developed and complicate society, thousands of years before previously thought, confirmed by the findings in two preclassic sites near the Mirador Basin, San Bartolo with its Preclasssic Murals and Cival with its giant Stucco Masks. The grandest Mayan city of all, a 15-square-mile collection of buried temples and pyramids, is called El Mirador, or "The Lookout," in Spanish. El Mirador,  was linked by limestone causeways to dozens of smaller cities, which at times battled other Mayan regions for supremacy. El Mirador provides the richest undisturbed laboratory on the origins of the Maya civilization and its earliest kingdoms, culture, history and environment, and the reasons of the collapse of a civilization of nearly one million people, walls enclosed strategic sectors of the ceremonial center,  so there is some evidence to suggest that war aimed at the attack of ceremonial centers concerned some lords in the Preclassic. However, these defensive works are still a rarity in early Maya centers. Indeed, fortifications do not become a commonplace until the Terminal Classic period, nearly a thousand years later.

The evidence from El Mirador alone indicates that hunters supplied meat from several Fauna such as turkeys, deer, dogs, pizotes, wild pig, reptiles like iguana, turtles and tortoises, several feline species, mollusks and possibly monkeys. Exotic items were brought over long distances to supply the population with Jade from the upper motagua river valley,  Obsidian from San Martín Jilotepeque, and then from El Chayal, near Kaminaljuyú, and granite and quartzite gridding manos and metates, cone conch and bivalve shells were imported from the Caribbean and Pacific  as well as stemmed chert macroblade points and bifaces. A red coral bead was also transported inland from the Caribbean, salt probably from the north coast was transported inland in addition to lithics, ceramics with El Mirador Monumment 2 ca 300 BCvolcanic ash temper from the highlands  were being transported into El Mirador.

A Late Classic occupation in the seventh and eighth century AD. Occurred in the Mirador Basin, although never approaching the levels seen during the Late Preclassic heyday of the site. El Mirador, along with Nakbé and other smaller sites in the Mirador Basin, were the only known sources of the famous Codex-style ceramics, that is among the most accomplished artistic traditions ever developed in the Maya world and featuring scenes of mythology and legendary history. The tall pyramids constructed by ancient Snake Kings made El Mirador and the other major sites in the Mirador Basin,  focus of pilgrimage and ritual, since many of the Preclassic monuments were found literally half covered with the shattered remains of Late Classic ceramic vessels. The lack of water sources is intriguing, due the the more than 100,000 inhabitants that lived during its heydays ca. 100 BC.

 Warfare seems to have played a part in the ultimate downfall of El Mirador as a large wall surrounding the western portion of the site appears to have been built in the Early Classic. One of the only documented battlefields of the ancient Maya world was found atop the Tigre pyramid where dozens of green obsidian spear points were found scattered atop debris indicating that the battle occurred after the pyramid had already fallen into disrepair. This suggests that the forces of Siyah K’ahk’
of Tikal  overran this area likely some time in the late fourth century AD.

A recently discovered bedrock sculpture found in a quarry in La Muerta, 2 Km away from the Main Ceremonial Center of El Mirador, contains the name and title of an Early Classic lord of the Snake Kingdom. The earliest examples of the Snake Pollity, Emblem Glyph, (later held by kings of Calakmul, some 40 Km. north), come from El Mirador and other sites in the Mirador Basin, The kingdom ruled by El Mirador in the Preclassic appears to have been anciently named Kan, “Snake”.

   El Mirador has been only partly mapped, but the scale of its central public architecture is vast beyond anything undertaken by Hasaw- Cha'an-K'awiil of Tikal or his son Yax'kin Cha'an K'awiil,  or any other contemporaries anywhere, during the Classic apogee of Maya civilization. There are numerous 3 D, Remote sensing image of La Danta, and Pavas Comlexesother very large Preclassic centers in north central Petén, some of which are fairly close to El Mirador. While these are impressive concentrations of temples and plazas, they are dwarfed by El Mirador and probably were subordinate to that center. To put it simply, the settlement patterns around El Mirador are beginning to take on the appearance of large satellite communities near a dominant capitol, at least in Late Preclassic times. But if El Mirador indeed constituted a primordial hegemonic state, it was the extraordinary exception and not the rule in early Maya civilization. In later Classic Maya history, it might have served as the half remembered glorious precedent for the imperial ambitions of Tikal and other Petén cities; but it did not divert Classic Maya society from its principal political form, the relatively small polity ruled by a single major royal capitol.

Lagoon, and Tropical rain forest

El Tigre Complex, El Mirador 

El Mirador is also  one of the oldest Maya cities along with Nakbé, Kaminal Juyú, in the highlands, Tak'alik Abaj', in the pacific lowlands and  the Largest City in the Mayan world, dating 1000 years before Uaxactún and  Tikal, (the Pre-classic) a time that just a few years ago was little known and believed to be almost like an stone age culture, without any building capabilities, due to recent findings in excavations, burials and monuments dates, this site will change the known history of the Mayan culture, and the archeologist will have to re-write it. The Kings that ruled El Mirador were equal in power to Ramses II and Keops. There have been recently found a site with mural paintings in excellent condition and similar to those in San Bartolo, this site name and precise location, has not been disclosed yet in order to protect it, but soon it will be announce to the world.

La Danta Summit 

Mapas de 5 sitios
Detailed Mirador Basin Sites Map


  Twenty-six other Preclassic sites have been identified In the basin, including Nakbé, La Muralla, Waknab, La Manteca, Tintal, Xulnal, Wiknal, Chan Kan, Wakna', Paixban, Naachtún, Dos Lagunas and many more still unnamed, but wonderful Mayan cities south and east to El Mirador, they were connected by huge Cuseways called Sacbe'ob, or Sacbé in singular, meaning white roads, due to its stucco cover, some 6 mt High and 40 mt. wide, and up to 40 Km long, clearly seen on Satellite photographs. The 40 kilometer causeway between El Mirador and Tintal was scientifically excavated, and is the longest in Mesoamerica.  There may be as many as 30 smaller sites, waiting to be uncovered. There are no modern roads in the region and many sites are a two or three-day hike from the nearest town of Carmelita, a former Chliclero outpost, some 400 inhabitants, that now are being trained as guides and helpers in the excavations. From Carmelita to El Mirador, you will visit 9 big Preclassic Mayan cities. All the cities share the same Emblem Glyph the Kan Ahau glyph.

Sacbé  Landsat image

El Mirador Causeways (Sacbeob)

 Excavation of El Mirador and other sites has begun only in recent decades. The Mirador Basin, part national park and part multi-use area, is also a target for illegal forestry activities, this Basin is still a virgin forest with 6 different types of Tropical forest and has a large variety of fauna, it is by far the largest virgin tropical ecosystem besides the Amazonia in Brazil.

The archaeologist Richard Hansen and his team have been working more that 20 years there, and in 2001 initiated "The Mirador Basin Project", which aims to gain permanent archaeological and environmental protection for the region while spurring economic growth through ecotourism development. He has The National Geographic Society and the Novella Foundation, support among other institutions and individuals, both in Guatemala and outside the country.

NGS made a Documentary for TV named "Dawn of the Maya", (Candidate to  an Oscar in 2005). in witch he defined this basin as the oldest and more extensive Mayan site of the world. If you have been in Tikal, just imagine the central plaza in Mirador that is 4 times larger and has two enormous pyramids, among hundreds of buildings,  one of them known as La Danta (Tapir), dated ca 400 BC., witch is, by far, the most massive building  discovered to date any where in the world, with an amazing base (that could accommodate 36 football fields): 1,089 feet (330 mt.) by 2,046 feet (620 mt.) and 237.6 feet tall (72 mt.)  with a volume of 2,800.000 cubic mt. that make the Great Pyramid in Egypt  smaller by 200,000 cubic mt., its base is larger that the Central Acrópolis in Tikal, and up today, Only its topmost pyramid has been fully excavated. It is the Tallest Building in Pre columbian America, Hansen estimates that 15 million man/days were necessary to build it. (See Gallery).  This complex has 4 Platforms,  and 3 temples in the uppermost being the central the tallest with 24 mt., in front of this massive pyramid and in the first platform is the Pavas group, with an acropolis some 28 mt high, among several smaller temples and the Puma group. Large public plaza appears to have been an important feature in the late preclassic period as there is a large one on each major level of the Danta complex.  Public plazas have been noted from the late preclassic period at Tikal by 100 BC (Culbert 1977:38), some of the late preclassic structures in the Danta complex may have had perishable superstructures, Its Major architectural features were central inset stairways, large projecting masonry block masses once supporting masks flanking the stairways, small nonfunctional stairways, carefully cut and shaped block masonry and thick plaster coverings on masonry and floors. Masonry was finely executed, the blocks were usually large and rectangular in shape, joints appear to have been mortared with mud instead of plaster. The practice of painting plaster surfaces with red pigment was observed on the Danta and Pava acropolises, a feature found also in Tikal by 300 BC.  At least 3 proceces of remodeling have been documented, and the last activity was ca 150 AD. At Tikal, Coe found that rites carried out in shrines on top of important tombs is suggestive of high status (Coe 1965), this may be the case at the La Danta complex such activities are present not only in the form of early classic ceramic offerings left on the structures after they had been abandoned but also in late preclassic period pits that were hacked through the floors of the structures for the purpose of burning offerings in them, that similar activities took place in the same locations but at widely separated times is suggestive of a common significance placed on the structure itself or its contents, perhaps the presence of a tomb containing a common ancestor. No middle preclassic activity is evidenced in the area in sharp contrast to the rest of the site. During the late preclassic the Danta complex appears to have come into use and apparently flourished as a center of ceremonial activity. there does not appear to have been much residential occupation of the danta complex during the preclassic period, it was during this period that El Mirador and the Danta complex developed as a preeminent center in the Maya lowlands.

El Tigre over Tikal's Central plaza.The city also has 2 other huge and earlier complexes, El Tigre, a 182 Foot high Triadic complex,  with a surface of 21,750 m2,  Tikal's central plaza would fit in its base, The total volume of the public architecture immediately surrounding the El Tigre plaza comes to roughly 428,680 m3 of soil and stone, allowing approximately 48,680 m3 of fill for the smaller structures, such as St 34. in the El Tigre area, however, earlier ceremonial structures were razed and placed in structural fill plazas and walls. Lithic specialists during the late preclassic period also established a workshop in the center of the El Tigre plaza. 

   Los Monos, a 145 foot high complex. The base of Los Monos complex (160,000 m3) appears to be the earliest of the large complexes, the excavations suggest that the Los Monos pyramid appears to have been constructed in three phases evidence suggests that the first level was constructed during the early middle preclassic period and the second and third levels during the late preclassic period. The main pyramid structure of Los Monos is 42 mt high and has an estimated volume of approximately 305,000 m3, although Los Monos is only the third largest structure at El Mirador, it still represents one of the largest structures in the Maya lowlands. Along with evidence from El Tigre and the central acropolis indicate that El Mirador was occupied during the early middle preclassic. Other 15 large Temples, 3
ball courts and several plazas, among its major features. Several Jade and Obsidian artifacts have been found here.

Dr. Richard Hansen Believes that this was the Capitol of the mythic Kingdom of Kan, that was considered a legend among the Classic Maya, (like Camelot), because it was the origin of their culture. the site was partially reoccupied in the Late Classic and is  the only  source of the Codex Style pottery, dated around 700 AC those classic inhabitants used some Temples to build houses jeopardizing the large pyramids, but in recent consolidation works, archeologists manage to stabilize them.

Hansen says that the spectacular rise of El Mirador over Nakbé, was related to that site's better supply of water and especially to its more defensible position. The important public architecture at El Mirador was constructed on the brink of a steep escarpment, which provided protection to the settlement's northern and western flanks, while the east is protected by swamps (bajos).

Dr. Hansen also has demonstrated that the Preclassic Maya suffered ca 150 AD, a Collapse similar to that of the Classic and for the same reasons, Warfare, Deforestation and inability to feed the people, due to the extensive forest slash for firewood in order to make stucco for their colossal Pyramids, (One average size temple would need some 400 Ha. of  forest), the poor soil of the area deforested fill the bajos and thus, the Preclassic Maya intensive agricultural system.

 El Mirador, was abruptly abandoned around A.D. 150  (R.D. Hansen 1990; Howell and Copeland 1989). The abandonment of El Mirador and the surrounding area appears to have been relatively rapid and enduring. The pollen data from Puerto Arturo corroborate this abandonment. The paleo-environmental evidence for this abandonment is similar to that of the Middle Preclassic recovery phase. Increased values of grasses and weeds, including maize pollen, from ca. 300 B.C. to A.D. 100, mark the intervening disturbance period. After A.D. 100, these grasses began a steep decline and minimum values persist from ~A.D. 130-225. Thus, it appearsStructure 34 the Preclassic abandonment was underway shortly after A.D. 100. (David Wahl, 2005)

 The project gained the support of the Guatemalan government, and in 2002, agreed to create the Regional System for the Special Protection of Cultural Heritage as a means of protecting archaeological sites within the Maya Biosphere Reserve. The 242,811 Hectares (580,000 acres) of the Mirador-Río Azul, reserve as a "Special Archaeological Zone" are officially named as the Mirador Basin. The Mirador Basin Project, has gained considerable national and international support in the past years, there is a project funded by the IDB (Inter-American Development Bank) and it is poised to transform El Mirador into the most-visited archaeological site and tourist attraction in Mesoamérica.

Mirador “Is a world wonder – and needs to be protected. We may be talking about the single most ambitious conservation and development project related to protected areas proposed in the Americas.”  states Roan McNab, Wildlife Conservation Society (WCS) in Travel & Leisure magazine, June, 2005.

   The project aims to establish visitor centers and a park service team of rangers, administrators and law-enforcement personnel to provide nature, wildlife and archaeological conservation. It proposes a system of tourism lodges and hiking routes linking archaeological sites within Mirador Basin. Bajo in El MiradorTrails will also link to gateway communities which will provide tourist services just outside the reserve. Supporters of the Mirador Basin project say it will integrate local communities into the wealth creation and development of sustainable tourism, which is far more lucrative than logging and slash-and-burn agriculture. There is also a plan to join the largest cities by a small  train, that will respect any big tree or site making it a very ecological solution to visit the basin without slash the Rain Forest by building Highways, that in time will attract illegal settlers. One of Mirador’s most unique attributes is the diversity of forest types and the wildlife distribution. The Director of Biological Conservation, Professor Cesar Castañeda and Dean of Tropical El Tigre view from La DantaBotany for the University Del Valle and his team have found over 40 threatened wildlife species, 200 native and migratory birds, 300 species of trees and 2,000 different flora. Dr. Castañeda and his team have documented the wide range of its forest types within a contained ecosystem, including the five primary ecosystems of palm forest (huanales), ramón forest (ramonales), wetland marshes (civales), high canopy forest (zapotales), and tree- covered seasonal swamps or bajos (tintales). Valuable renewable resources are also contained within the Mirador such as floral palms (xate), allspice (pimienta) and chewing gum base (chicle), and more recently, ramon nuts (Brosimum alicastrum) as a high protein supplement. In addition, these rainforests are also an important source of oxygen, carbon fixation and may also provide important cosmetics and natural pharmaceuticals.  Mirador is home to five of the six species of cat found in Guatemala, and the largest jaguar preserve in Central America, with an estimated 300 to 400 jaguars living in Mirador’s dense forests. Protecting the jaguar, which only exists in the Americas, requires assessing, prioritizing and conserving not only the individual population, but also the wide variety of ecological interactions associated with them. Global Heritage Fund.

 The village of Carmelita (A former camp site for collectors of "Chicle" (Chicleros) or chewing gum base, extracted from the Chico-Zapote tree, is the nearest point to the site that you can go by car, there, you will find guides and rental of the equipment needed to go to the main city of El Mirador either hiking or on horseback. You will have to spend at least 4 days to enjoy the sites and learn about the Jungle as well.  All the camping equipment, purified water and food will be provided at Carmelita, so you just have to go with your essential belongings and a lot of explorer spirit. The Mirador Basin is without any doubt the ultimate Tropical Jungle Ecological, and Mayan Archeological Adventure at the same time. A Community Visitor
Center in Carmelita is under construction with six lodges, tourism center, Internet and computer facilities, guiding center, water and showers, kitchen and visitors services, and a Museum is Planned. 8 Major structures have been restored, only in its facades.

In Jan 31, 2007, the USA and Guatemala Governments, signed a US $ 35 million Treaty to promote Ecotourism and Archaeological protection in Petén, that will promote the conservation and development of the Maya Biosphere Reserve, that will begin in The Mirador Basin  Río Azul and Carmelita, a 4000 Km2 area. Mirador is Guatemala’s leading nomination for UNESCO World Heritage. Since October 2007, the visitor's center in Carmelita is in operation, also,  there are bungalows  with all the basic services, even Internet access. Guatemala's new President Alvaro Colom said in his inauguration speech that his administration would seek the UNESCO monument recognition, and make El Mirador the first Maya attraction of the World. In May, 2008 a group of private business announce in Antigua Guatemala, a donation of US $ 5 million to Dr. Hansen and his team, as the government announced the creation of the largest archaeological and ecological park in Mesoamerica (18,000 Km2), to ensure the protection and sustainability of the communities  and the protection of Guatemala's Natural and Historical wealth.

Mirador Archaeological and Wildlife Preserve is a proposed 525,100 acre protected area located in the heart of the Maya Biosphere in northern Guatemala. Mirador is home to the earliest and largest Preclassic Maya archeological sites in Mesoamerica, including the largest pyramid in the world  La Danta. Experts describe EL Mirador as the Cradle of Maya Civilization.
GHF http://www.globalheritagefund.org/where/mirador_scroller.html



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