SCIENCE REPORT- Mayan Palace Discovered in Guatemala

By Nancy Steinbach

This is the VOA Special English SCIENCE REPORT.

Scientists working in Central America have discovered ruins of one of the largest and most important palaces built by the ancient Mayan people. It was built about one-thousand-three-hundred years ago. They say jungle plants have covered the ruins for hundreds of years.

Arthur Demarest of Vanderbilt University in Nashville, Tennessee discovered the huge palace this past summer at Cancuen (can-cu-win) in Guatemala. The palace has one-hundred-seventy rooms built around eleven open areas. The scientists say the area looks like a huge hill covered by jungle. Mr. Demarest found the structure when he fell into one of its open areas as he was walking along the ruin's highest level. He then recognized that the hill was the top of a building.

Mr. Demarest was leading a team of scientists in the area with Tomas Barrientos of the Universidad del Valle in Guatemala. Scientists say the ruins should increase understanding of the political life of the Mayan people. They were at the height of power in Central America and Mexico more than one-thousand years ago. Writings on the newly found palace walls say King Tah ak Chaan built it. He ruled Cancuen for about fifty years beginning in the year Seven-Hundred-Forty.

Scientists say they may have to re-consider some of their ideas about the Mayan people. They say Cancuen seems different from other Mayan cities. Scientists had believed that power among the Maya was based on warfare and religion. But the scientists did not find evidence of religious centers or wars in Cancuen. The city's rulers did not take part in major wars with nearby groups. There were no large pyramid shaped buildings, parts of temples that would show the religious power of the rulers.

The evidence suggests that the city's power was based on its importance as a trading center. And evidence suggests it formed alliances with other powerful cities in the area.

The researchers say the ruins show that the people in the city were rich. Many were skilled in producing goods for trade. The scientists say it will take them at least ten years to dig the palace from under the jungle plants and partly repair it. They are planning to start the work by sending a larger group of researchers to the area in February.

This VOA Special English SCIENCE REPORT was written by Nancy Steinbach.

Voice of America Special English