Large Manors From The Fabled Mayan Snake Dynasty Have Been Found In The Jungle By Laser-Based Researchers

Scientists in Mexico have gained striking new insights into how people lived during the mighty Kanu’l or Snake dynasty of the ancient Mayan civilization, which ruled from from 635 to 850 BCE.

The most significant archaeological site and the former capital of the empire, Calakmul, is located deep within the tropical Tierras Bajas forest on Mexico’s Yucatan peninsula. The Bajo Laberinto Archaeological Project launched a new investigation into the protected region this year with the goal of documenting the settlement and excavating its water management systems.

The multidisciplinary team, led by Kathryn Resse-Taylor from the University of Calgary and Adriana Velazquez Morlet from the Instituto Nacional de Antropologia e Historia in Campeche, used lidar to scan 95 square kilometers of dense forest that were deserted and covered in trees.

What they discovered beneath the canopy was evidence of ancient city life of a previously unknown complexity and density. Specifically, the scans suggest that residents of ancient Calakmul lived in what researchers described as “immense apartment-style residential compounds,” encompassing “as many as 60 individual structures.”

Those compounds were the seats of large households accommodating extended families, nested around “numerous temples, shrines and possible marketplaces, making Calakmul one of the largest cities in the Americas at 700 AD,” a release from the University of Calgary states.

A pyramid at Calakmul, captured in 2019. (Photo by Andrea Sosa/picture alliance via Getty Images)

“This is a type of residential structure that is not found in other parts of the Maya lowlands,” Reese-Taylor told Artnet News. It more closely resembles compounds at the densely populated, prehispanic city of Teotihuacán—or manor homes across Europe.

Calakmul citizens also made use of all available land, converting waterways into canals, terraces, walls, and dams to collect water and grow crops like corn, squash, and sweet potato to feed the settlement’s many residents.

As Reese-Taylor explained to Artnet News, “the kings of the Kanu’l regime created a widespread alliance of vassal kingdoms throughout the southern Maya lowlands, successfully controlling trade in the region for roughly 100 years.”

A grant from the Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council of Canada funded the work, which was carried out by the National Center for Airborne Laser Mapping at the University of Houston and Aerotecnología Digital S.A. de C.V. of Pachuca, Mexico. The research team presented their findings on INAH’s YouTube channel at the end of October.

Prior to an anticipated increase in tourism to the area, policy and planning will be based on their research. To find out why Calakmul’s population increased so quickly and how their large population affected the ecosystem, the Bajo Laberinto will keep using LiDAR in the meantime.

The Calakmul bioreserve, one of the world’s most biodiverse ecosystems, and a UNESCO Mixed World Heritage site since 2002, is where the remains of Calakmul are located.

Image of the Calakmul lidar survey. Copyright, Bajo Laberinto Archaeological Project and Instituto Nacional de Antropología e Historia.

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