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A Journey Into Paradise

Archaeologists Discover Two Ancient Mayan Cities in Mexico

24 August, 2014

Uncovered in the southeastern part of the Mexican State of Campeche,deep in the jungle of the Yucatan Peninsula not far from the Riviera Maya,the two cities have remained camouflaged from view by the thick vegetation and barely accessible for many years.

“Aerial photographs helped us in locating the sites,” expedition leader Ivan Sprajc of the Research Center of the Slovenian Academy of Sciences and Arts (ZRC SAZU) told Discovery News. “Both cities open new questions about the diversity of Maya culture,the role of that largely unexplored area in the lowland Maya history,and its relations with other polities.”

The two newly discovered sites were found during explorations around the large Maya city of Chactun,which was discovered by Sprajc in 2013.  The area encompasses around 1800 square miles,stretching between the Rio Bec and Chenes regions of the Yucatan Peninsula,which exhibit distinctive architectural styles representative of the Late and Terminal Classic periods and date back to at least 300 B.C. Chactun is just one of the growing number of significant ancient sites discovered by explorers and scientists throughout Mexico in recent years.


Boasting an extraordinary façade with an entrance fashioned to resemble the open jaws of an imposing earth monster,Lagunita was actually first visited in the 1970s by American archaeologist Eric Von Euw,who made drawings of the façade and other stone monuments found at the site. Despite his documentation,the actual location of the site remained a mystery until now,and all previous attempts at relocating the ruins have failed. 

“The information about Lagunita was vague,” shared Sprajc. “In the jungle,you can be as little as 600 feet from a large site and do not even suspect it might be there; small mounds are all over the place,but they give you no idea about where an urban center might be.”

Sprajc was able to identify Lagunita by comparing the newly re-discovered façade and other monuments with Van Euw’s drawings. The “monster-mouth façade” is one of the best-preserved examples of this style of doorway; a design that is common throughout the architecture of the Late-Terminal Classic period in the Rio Bec region,which lies just to the south.

According to Sprajc,the monster represents a Maya earth deity related to fertility and symbolizes an entrance to a cave that leads into the mythical depths of a watery underworld,where the Maya believed both maize and their ancestors had originated.  Other discoveries at Lagunita include a number of massive,palace-like structures that are arranged around four large plazas,as well as a ball court and temple pyramid that rose nearly 65 feet into the jungle canopy. In addition,10 elongated sculpted stone shafts,or stelae,have been uncovered at Lagunita,along with three low,circular stone altars,all featuring well-preserved hieroglyphic inscriptions and reliefs.


Previously unknown,the second city unearthed by Sprajc was named Tamchen,which means “deep well” in the Yucatec Mayan language. Comparable in the size and number of ruins to Lagunita,explorers have already found more than 30 chultuns at Tamchen. These bottle-shaped underground chambers were used to collect rainwater and some go down as far as 42 feet.

Large buildings surround the plazas at Tamchen,similar to the design of Lagunita,and the remains of an acropolis supporting a courtyard with three temples on its sides was also discovered. In addition,Sprajc and his team uncovered a pyramid temple that is complete with a well-preserved sanctuary on top,a stela and an alter at the base.

“Tamchen appears to have been contemporaneous with Lagunita,” writes Discovery News. “Although there is evidence for its settlement history going back to the Late Preclassic,between 300 B.C. and 250 A.D.”

The newly re-discovered archaeological sites are located within the southern portion of the Calakmul Biosphere Reserve,which became a UNESCO World Heritage site in June of 2014. 

The expedition was launched as a follow up to an in-depth study of Archaeological Reconnaissance in Southeastern Campeche,which Sprajc has directed since 1996. The 2014 campaign received support from Mexico’s National Institute of Anthropology and History (INAH),the Ken and Julie Jones (KJJ) Charitable Foundation,along with private companies such as Villas and Hotel Rio Bec Dreams,and Ars Longo and Adria Kombi,Martin Hobel and Ales Obreza.

Click here to read more about Campeche,the Yucatan Peninsula and the Riviera Maya from the experts at Investment Properties Mexico!