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The Maya palace recently discovered in the Yucatan, Mexico. Source: INAH

Maya Palace Emerges from Yucatan Jungle

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Researchers from the National Institute of Anthropology and History (INAH) have confirmed the finding of an impressive Maya palace in the Archaeological Zone of Kulubá, in Yucatán.

The 55-meter (180.45 ft) structure is being excavated and conserved together with four other buildings in the pre-Hispanic Maya city, which is regaining some of its former splendor thanks to the INAH experts.

Uncovering a Lost Maya City

According to archaeologist Alfredo Barrera, who has been conducting research at the site since it was acquired by the INAH in 2018, Kulubá has Maya and Toltec influence and its architecture is similar to the  more well-known sites of Chichen Itza and Ek Balam.

The site was first discovered in 1939 by American archaeologist Wyllys Andrews IV, with the initial reports of the city being released in 1941, reported El Universal. Now, Barrera and other investigators from a multi-disciplinary team are steadily rolling back the blanket of lowland forest which has enveloped it over the centuries. These works, which have the financial backing of the State Government from Yucatán, have now confirmed the existence of a palace to the east of the main square.

Stabilization and cleaning process of the stucco of the Temple of the U at the Kulubá site. (Image: Mauricio Marat. INAH)

Stabilization and cleaning process of the stucco of the Temple of the U at the Kulubá site. (Image: Mauricio Marat. INAH)

The interdisciplinary INAH team is carrying out conservation work, excavations, and mapping and topographic work over 234 hectares at the site. The INAH reports that Kulubá is steadily recovering its former splendor. Their work has unearthed a floor, stairs, and a corridor with pilasters (non-operational decorations made to look like columns) of a palace.

Barrera Rubio says that the palace ruins were occupied at two different points of time, in the Classic Late Period (600–900 AD) and in the Terminal Classic (850–1050 AD). The archaeologist states:

“It was in the Terminal Classic when Chichen Itza became a metropolis in the northeast of the current area of the Yucatan and extended its influence on sites such as Kulubá, which, according to the data we have and Chichén-type ceramic materials and obsidian from the same source as the city, can be inferred to have become an Itzá enclave.”


Secondary Burials and Other Discoveries at the Site

Another interesting discovery made at Kulubá is the presence of what is referred to as a ‘secondary burial’ (in which a person or people are re-buried in a location which was not their original burial site). These remains have been excavated and future anthropological work is planned with the goal of identifying the sex, age, pathologies, and habits of the Maya individuals who were re-buried at the palace.

Four more features of interest which have been found during the recent archaeological work at Kulubá are an altar, two residential spaces, and a round construction that was likely an oven. The researchers are still working to analyze the settlement pattern of this pre-Hispanic city.

Archaeological work at the recently discovered Maya palace. (INAH)

Archaeological work at the recently discovered Maya palace. (INAH)

Restoration of a Maya Palace in the Middle of the Jungle

Throughout the 20th century, Tizimín ceded most of its jungle land to agricultural and livestock uses. Kulubá is one of the last jungle sites in the municipality. This gives the site an interesting natural and cultural balance and also means that people working at the site are sharing their space with spider monkeys and other interesting local species of flora and fauna.

While the above situation would be an exciting and unique experience for some, María Fernanda Escalante Hernández and Natalia Hernández Tangarife, restorers of the Conservation Section of the INAH Yucatan Center who co-direct the architectural conservation work, have also found the environment somewhat difficult for their work; there are understandably weathering and climate concerns while trying to preserve what has been unearthed in a humid, jungle environment.

But where there are obstacles there is often room for creative solutions as well and Tangarife believes that the environment can also be used to help conservation of the site: “One option that this site gives us is to use the vegetation to help conservation; reforesting specific parts with trees to protect the structures, especially painted sections of the site, from direct light and wind,” she says.

There are two main buildings in Kulubá receiving attention for restoration right now. The first is a part of a previously discovered palace with a stucco floor depicting ‘Patolli’ - a pre-Hispanic board game that was popular in Mesoamerica.

The second is called the Temple of the 'U.' This is a T-shaped building with an interesting feature - carved stones covered with stucco layers that resemble the letter 'u'. Escalante explains that this decorative element would have given the structure the appearance of having had snake scales.

Archaeologists at Kulubá Yucatan Temple of the ‘U’. (INAH)

Archaeologists at Kulubá Yucatan Temple of the ‘U’. (INAH)

She says that this idea of a serpent-like appearance to the building was discovered through examining stone reliefs at the structure, which look like the jaws of a “monster of the earth.” The stucco elements are gently being cleaned to remove traces of moisture, microorganisms, and plants.

El Universal explains that “Each building shows elements of the cosmovision, ideology, and religion shared with the ancient inhabitants of Ek Balam, another archaeological area in eastern Yucatán,” thus conservation work is vital for gaining the best possible understanding of life and beliefs in the ancient Maya palaces at Kulubá.

This is the fourth Kulubá field season. It started in November and work will continue at the site until March 2020. Proceso reports that 55 day laborers, 20 of them women, have been working alongside the experts on the site to preserve their local heritage.

Top image: The Maya palace recently discovered in the Yucatan, Mexico. Source: INAH

By Alicia McDermott

Alicia McDermott's picture


Alicia McDermott holds degrees in Anthropology, Psychology, and International Development Studies and has worked in various fields such as education, anthropology, and tourism. Traveling throughout Bolivia, Peru, Colombia, and Ecuador, Alicia has focused much of her research on Andean cultures... Read More

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