Archaeology of Xunantunich

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altData from excavations at Xunantunich suggest it was successful in the Terminal Classic (A.D. 750-900) Period, about the time of the “Maya collapse”.  At this same time, Tikal, about 32 miles away, was already abandoned. Xunantunich has been studied for about 100 years beginning with Thomas Gann in the 1890’s. In 1904 Teobert Mahler of the Peabody Museum of Harvard University took photos and began a plan for Xunantunich. In 1924 Gann examined and removed burial goods and carved hieroglyphics. It is said that Gann used dynamite to carry out his “investigations”. In 1938 archaeologist J. Eric Thompson excavated Group B – a Middle Classic residential area. In 1952-53 Michael Stewart uncovered burials and caches and these were “donated” to the Cambridge University Museum and the Museum of Volkerkunde in Hamburg, Germany. Euan Mackie, of the Cambridge University Expedition, carried out further excavations to be followed by A.H. Anderson and Peter Schmidt who excavated and consolidated various structures.

The most intensive project at the site was conducted by Dr. Richard Leventhal of U.C.L.A and Dr. Wendy Ashmore of the University of Pennsylvania . Work at Xunantunich had two primary goals:
  1. to determine the socio-political development of this Maya city, and
  2. to develop the site as a tourist destination.
During the 1992 and 1993 seasons, further expansions of Xunantunich and surrounding areas were made.  Three sacbes or ancient Maya causeways were identified within the central part of ancient, downtown Xunantunich. More mapping of a secondary center at Actuncan continued. This southern site includes a series of plazas, buildings and a ballcourt. Knowledge about Xunantunich, its size, and potential importance continues to grow.

Excavations were also carried out on the west side of El Castillo. These excavations revealed a monumental plaster frieze with skyland frames frequently associated with accession. There is a three dimensional seated figure flanked by leaf-like elements terminating in knots. A seated figure, probably a ruler, wears elaborate knotted anklets. There is another figure in a dancing position clutching at ropes. These ropes are identified as birth ropes which extend from a house beam which women hold while giving birth. Other excavations focused on the outlying elite residential plaza Group D. Here, a sacbe running from Group D north was found. Much consolidation work is being carried out at Xunantunich on the north side of Structure A-1. Experts in consolidation were brought in from Mexico INAH to preserve the plaster frieze uncovered on the west side of El Castillo.

Two major tourist-related changes were completed in 1993. These changes were
  1. Creation of a visitor’s center and monument building (to house four carved stelae).
  2. The conservation of Structure A-1 in the main plaza, as well as the preservation of the west frieze.