The Mayan pyramid
complex of Mirador is being resuscitated from a near-death
experience following a thousand years of assault by the
jungles of the Guatemalan highlands. This fantastic temple complex
is now realised to contain the largest pyramid on the American
continent, and probably the whole world (in terms of mass).
The La Danta pyramid
(right) rises approximately 70 metres (230 ft) tall from the
forest floor, and considering its total volume (2,800,000 cubic
meters) is now considered to be the largest pyramid in the world.
The Mirador Basin
in the far northern Pet�n region of Guatemala is known for its
abundance of sites, many of which are among the largest and earliest
in the Maya world. Of 26 known sites, only 14 have been studied; an
estimated 30 more await discovery. Since 2003, Global Heritage Fund
(GHF) has been working in Mirador to protect its priceless ancient
cities and monuments and preserve the site for future generations.
Led by project director Dr. Richard Hansen, founder and president of
the Foundation for Anthropological Research and Environmental
Studies (FARES), GHF has established a new 880,000-acre national
park in the area, and continues to work with local communities like
nearby Carmelita to ensure Mirador�s integrity and sustainability.
In 2010, after completion of site conservation, El Mirador opened to
the public for the first time.
El Mirador: 'The
El Mirador was
first discovered in 1926, and was photographed from the air in
1930, but the remote site deep in the jungle had little more
attention paid to it until Ian Graham spent some time there
making the first map of the area in 1962 A detailed
investigation was begun in 1978. To the surprise of the
archaeologists, it was found that a large amount of construction
was not contemporary with the large Maya classic cities in the
area, like Tikal and Uaxactun, but rather from centuries earlier
in the Pre-Classic era.
The civic centre of the site covers some
10 square miles (26 km2) with several thousand
structures, including monumental architecture from 10 to 30
meters high. Most of the structures were originally faced with
cut stone which was then decorated with large
depicting the deities of
mythology. According to
Carlos Morales-Aguilar, a Guatemalan archaeologist, the city
appears to have been planned from its foundation, as
extraordinary alignments have been found between the
architectural groups and main temples, which were possibly
related to solar alignments. The study reflects an importance of
urban planning and sacred spaces since the first settlers.
'El Tigre' and 'La Danta' pyramid complexes were built
to face each other.
('Sacbeib' / 'White-roads')
An additional feature of El Mirador is the quantity and
size of causeways (see above), internally linking important
architectural compounds, and externally linking the
numerous major ancient cities within the Mirador Basin
during the latter part of the Middle and Late
Preclassic periods. The causeways were known
sacbeob (the plural form of sacbe,
meaning "white road" in
Mayan, from sac "white" and be
"road"). These are raised stone causeways raising 2 to 6
meters above the level of the surrounding
landscape and measuring from 20 to 50 meters wide.
One sacbe links El Mirador to the neighbouring
Nakbe, approximately 12 km away, while another
joined El Mirador to
Tintal, 40 km away. This causeway has been
scientifically excavated nd is the longest in
This large concentration of Preclassic
Maya cities in Mesoamerica is threatened by massive
deforestation, looting, and destruction caused by
equipment used in logging road construction, which
itself facilitates intrusive settlements.
La Danta: The 'Largest
Pyramid in the World'.
La Danta is
claimed to be the largest pyramid in the world'.. Seen here rising
out of the Mirador Basin.
La Danta is 230 ft high (70m), and is the largest
structure ever built by the Mayans. El Tigre pyramid is only 180 ft high, (55m), yet
from the top one still looks over the treetops in the Mirador Basin.
The El Tigre and La Danta complexes face each other on an East-West
axis. The architecture is characterized by triadic structures
composed of one large temple pyramid flanked on either side by two
smaller pyramids, a pattern that is repeated elsewhere in the
Pre-classic sites of the Mirador basin. The colossal
La Danta Complex lies to the east of the main plaza and
Central Acropolis. Although technically lower than El Tigre, it
rises to a height of 70 meters (230 feet) thanks to its elevated
location on a hillside, making it the tallest structure in the Mayan
world. Its base is equally impressive. There are jaguar and vulture
heads built into the sides of the smaller temples here and the
spectacular views from the top of the pyramid afford views of nearby
Mayan sites, including Nakb� and Calakmul.
El Tigre complex is believed to be the
site where rulers
once performed human and animal sacrifices. The structures are
decorated with large stucco masks and panels depicting deities of
Mayan mythology. The base of the El Tigre Complex
is as large as three football fields, while the large temple
dominating the structure reaches 180 ft. (55m) in height. The lower
flanking pyramids contain gigantic stucco jaguar masks.
takes the form of a narrow
plaza bordered on one side
by a series of small
buildings. Moving south from
the El Tigre Complex, you
come to the
Monos Complex, only
138 ft high (45m), another
triadic structure named
after the howler monkeys
tending to congregate in
Other interesting site
features include the
Le�n Pyramid, at the
northern edge of the
city, and Structure 34
(The Jaguars Paw) - a
with the oldest known
Mayan standing wall.
Relief found in Mirador Basin is named one of Top Ten
Archaeological Discoveries of 2009:
The Archaeological Institute of America.
investigating the water collection system at
the city of El Mirador in northern
Guatemala's Pet�n rain forest, a team of
archaeologists led by Richard Hansen of
Idaho State University uncovered a
sculptural panel with one of the earliest
depictions of the Maya creation story, the
Popol Vuh. "It was like finding the Mona
Lisa in the sewage system," says Hansen. The
plaster panel dates to approximately 200
B.C. and depicts the mythical hero twins,
Hunaphu and Xbalanque, swimming into the
underworld to retrieve the decapitated head
of their father. The sculpture dates to the
same period as some of the earliest artwork
to depict the Popol Vuh, the murals at San
Bartolo and a stela at Nakbe, two other
nearby cities. Parts of the decorative panel
extend beyond Hansen's excavation trench, so
uncovering the rest of it will have to wait
until next field season. In the meantime,
the archaeologists have installed a
climate-controlled shelter over the area to
ensure the plaster remains intact.
This importance of this discovery
(dated at approximately 200 BC)(3), is
such that it changes the whole view of the Mayan belief system. The Popol Vuh is the Mayan creation myth, and similarities with 'Old
World' creation myths have led to it traditionally been viewed as
having been 'tainted' by the Catholic church following the
'conquest' of the Americas. This discovery of the Popol Vuh from
around 1000 years before the conquistadors clearly isolates it from
outside influences, giving it a credence in its own right.
The sculpture decorates the wall of a
channel that was meant to funnel rainwater through the central
administrative area of the city. According to Hansen, every roof and
plaza in the city was designed to guide rainwater into reservoirs.
While a rain forest may not seem like a place where drought would be
a problem, the Mirador Basin gets very little rain from January
through May, which would have made it difficult to maintain a large
urban population. (3)
How old is Mirador?
it is understood that
there are at least
30 cities, dating from the pre-classic 1000 BC to
300 AD in the Mirador basin, in El Mirador an early
uncorrected carbon date from a filling in El Tigre
complex, of 1480 BC (beta 1964) is not associated
with known ceramics of this period and would have
been considered erroneous except that several other
samples have been recovered from throughout the site
from this general time period, including Zea Mais
(Corn) from 2,700 BC in Lake Puerto Arturo, nearby.
(Matheny and Matheny 1991) (Wahl, 2004).
El Mirador: Gallery of
the Important Mayan Stucco relief friezes.