Newly discovered hieroglyphs in Guatemala tell of a showdown between two Maya superpowers that may have led to the civilization’s collapse, US archeologists have said.
A hurricane that swept through northern Guatemala in mid-2001 uncovered hieroglyphs written into 18 steps at the foot of a pyramid — the longest Maya text ever found, said researchers who made the discovery public Thursday.
The hieroglyphs at Dos Pilas, in rainforest in northeast Guatemala where the battle was fought, “fill in a vital 60-year gap of unknown Maya history,” according to Federico Fahsen, a researcher from Vanderbilt University in Tennessee.
The National Geographic Society in Washington which financed the study is due to publish it in the October edition of its magazine.
Only eight of the 18 steps were known before the hurricane, researchers said. An interpretation of the full text indicates that the Maya world in the seventh century was split into two superpowers that did battle in Dos Pilas.
“Rather than being an independent actor as previously thought, it now appears that Dos Pilas was a pawn in a much bigger battle,” explained Vanderbilt University’s Ingram professor of archeology Arthur Demarest.
One of the superpowers, Calakmul, located in today’s Mexico, some 100 kilometers (60 miles) north of Mutul in northern Guatemala, the other was controlled out of the city-state Tikal — where Mutul is located today.
Calakmul, known as the “Kingdom of the Serpent,” was warring with Tikal — but not just for reasons of brotherly rivalry as some historians had previously thought.
“In today’s terms, Dos Pilas was the Somalia or Vietnam of the Maya world, used in a war that was actually between two superpowers,” Demarest said.
Fahsen said the findings now “clarify many of the political and military relationships of this critical period.”
Both researchers believe they support the original theory of two Maya specialists, Simon Martin of University College in London, and Nikolai Grube of Bonn University, and their theory of a long war between the two superpowers Tikal and Calakmul.