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Structure at Xiol, a Maya city located near Mérida, in the Yucatán peninsula of Mexico. Source: El Heraldo de México/Especial

Archaeologists Unlock the Secrets of the Maya “Spirit of Man” City

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The ruins of an ancient Maya city, discovered by INAH archaeologists in 2018 in the central Yucatan Peninsula in Mexico, have now been mostly restored. The site, called Xiol (“Spirit of Man” in Mayan), was built between 600 and 900 AD, and from this site, palaces, houses, graves, and workshops have been uncovered and restored. The site was accidentally stumbled upon during construction work of an industrial park near Merida, reports Reuters.

The Maya city of Xiol also boasts a main square that has a pyramid and a zocalo (central plaza) with a palace-type construction that has two entrances divided by a monolithic column. The large square was likely used for ceremonial purposes. In addition to this, there is a beautiful 5 meter (16 feet) deep cenote, that is set to be fully examined in the coming weeks. A cenote is a naturally occurring reservoir formed by the collapse of a limestone surface. Archaeologists have also discovered 76 plinths so far – a plinth is the lowest foundational base pillar of an architectural column.

The Maya city of Xiol is believed to have housed around 4,000 people. (INAH)

The Maya city of Xiol is believed to have housed around 4,000 people. ( INAH)

José Arturo Chab Cárdenas, an INAH representative, noted that the site was slated to be part of an industrial park, but the developer ceded the land to INAH and even funded excavation and restoration work. “This site shows us that private infrastructure projects are not an obstacle … to conserving our cultural heritage. The discovery of this Mayan city is important due to its monumental architecture…,” he said. “This archaeological site will be a bonus for this industrial project.”

Xiol: Diverse Social Stratification Seen Through Housing

The settlement likely housed around 4,000 people from diverse social classes – priests, scribes, and common people. “[It was] a large city, people of different social classes lived here, such as priests [and] scribes who lived in these large palaces, but also common people who lived in small constructions made of stone,” said Carlos Peraza Lope, coordinator of the Xiol archaeological rescue.

Peraza explained that priests and scribes would live in the bigger palaces. The exalted social standing of scribes is something seen across ancient and pre-medieval societies around the world, as scribes, after priests, would be interpreters of religious texts. Eventually, they would be accorded some of the most important roles in the king’s court too, owing to their access to the earliest forms of written language, writing in the language of the elite.

Scribes in Maya society were seen as those who could perform the dual function of writing and painting. Artistic depictions of rulers’ work, their way of governing, and the ruler’s activities in general would be a part of their work. Scribes learned the calendar system, social rituals, different kinds of art, math, scientific information, and history as well as religious rituals and myth.

Puuc Architectural Style and Other Finds at the Maya City

Common people, on the other hand, lived in the smaller, humbler dwellings that were made from perishable masonry material. Some of the structures have been built in the Puuc architectural style, reports La Prensa Latina . This architectural style began at the end of the Late Classic period but experienced its greatest point during the Terminal Classic period (800-900 AD). One of the key elements of Puuc architecture is the use of a concrete core. The best examples of this style are found in Uxmal, Sayil, Xlapak, and Chichén Itzá, amongst other sites.

Structure at Xiol, a Maya city near Mérida, in the Yucatán peninsula of Mexico. (Mexico News Daily)

Structure at Xiol, a Maya city near Mérida, in the Yucatán peninsula of Mexico. (Mexico News Daily )

Carlos Peraza also noted that this architectural style is commonly found in the south of Yucatan, unlike Xiol which is in the north. “We’ve found at least five buildings of this nature [at Xiol],” Peraza told the newspaper  Milenio during a media tour of the site on Thursday. Interestingly, he pointed out that Xiol, which was built around the same time as Uxmal and Chichén Itzá, shares “a lot of decorative elements.”

The tools used to build the city, obsidian and flint, along with ceramic pots and ancient graves were found. There were 15 graves in total, mostly of adult men and women, though there are a few graves of children too. Here, offerings of vessels, earrings, necklaces, and other items used in the daily lives of the people have been found as well.

Ceramics discovered at the ancient Maya city of Xiol. (Centro INAH Yucatán)

Ceramics discovered at the ancient Maya city of Xiol. ( Centro INAH Yucatán )

Only 12 structures have been reconstructed until now – archaeologists are firmly convinced that more structures will emerge, including a ball court, which is characteristic of pre-colonial Mexican cities. The archaeologists also found scattered remains of marine life from the area, suggesting Xiol’s inhabitants ate fish in addition to their agricultural-based diets.

"With time, urban sprawl (in the area) has grown and many of the archaeological remains have been destroyed... but even we as archaeologists are surprised, because we did not expect to find a site so well preserved," Peraza concluded.

Top image: Structure at Xiol, a Maya city located near Mérida, in the Yucatán peninsula of Mexico. Source: El Heraldo de México/Especial

By Sahir Pandey

References

Forbes. 2022. Xiol, the Mayan city more than 1,500 years old . Available at: https://www.forbes.com.mx/forbes-life/viajes-xiol-la-ciudad-maya-mexico-yucatan-arquitectura-monumental/.

Hernandez, L., Madry, K. 2022. Archaeologists discover ancient Mayan city on construction site . Available at: https://www.reuters.com/world/americas/archaeologists-discover-ancient-mayan-city-construction-site-2022-05-27/.

Huan, M.L. 2022. Archaeologists unlocking mysteries of ancient Mayan city in southeast Mexico . Available at: https://www.laprensalatina.com/archaeologists-unlocking-mysteries-of-ancient-mayan-city-in-southeast-mexico/.

MND. 2022. Ancient Mayan city revealed through advances at Yucatán site. Available at: https://mexiconewsdaily.com/news/ancient-mayan-city-yucatan-site-xiol/.

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