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Tayasal (archaeological site)


Tayasal (archaeological site)

Entrance to the Tayasal archaeological site
Country Guatemala
Municipality Flores
Nearest town Flores
Culture Maya
First occupied Preclassic Period
Abandoned Postclassic Period
Excavation and maintenance
Responsible body Ministerio de Cultura y Deportes

Tayasal is a Maya archaeological site located in present day Guatemala. Tayasal is a corruption of Tah Itza ("Place of the Itza"), a term originally used to refer to the core of the Itza territory in Petén.[1] The bulk of the site’s artifacts date to the Postclassic Period. As many as fifty burials and twelve caches have been recovered from Tayasal.[2] In the past there has been some debate among scholars about whether the location of the ethnohistoric Tayasal is actually the modern site of Topoxte, Guatemala.[3] The ethnohistory records Lake Peten Itza as the site of Tayasal, but Arlen Chase argued that archaeologically, Lake Yaxha, where Topoxte is located, fits the data better.[4] His arguments were contested by Grant Jones and Don and Prudence Rice, who argued that the Spanish accounts are clear as to its location.[5]


  • Ceramics 1
  • Architecture 2
  • Iconography 3
  • Archaeological excavations 4
  • See also 5
  • Notes 6
  • References 7
  • External links 8


Excavations at Tayasal revealed high levels of ceramic diversity. The area defined as the Tayasal-Paxcaman Zone can be divided into nine temporal periods. The site appears to have been occupied since the Preclassic Period, beginning at approximately 900 B.C. It probably was not extenstively occupied during the Preclassic, but the lack of evidence from this period could be due to the excavation techniques that were used. The site was occupied intensely during the Postclassic Period, although occupation continued into the Colonial Period. The Chunzalam Ceramic Complex dates from 900 B.C. to 200 B.C. It can be differentiated from other wares because it was made with a harder paste and a glossier slip. It is followed by the Kax Ceramic Complex, which dates from 200 B.C. to 300 A.D. Next came the Yaxcheel Complex from 300 A.D. to 400 A.D. This is followed by the Hoychunchan Complex from 400 A.D. to 600 A.D. Next came the Pakol Complex from 600 to 700. The Hobo Complex lasted from 700 to 900. The Chilcob Complex dates from 900 to 1200. The Cacahmut Complex lasted from 1200 to 1450. The Kauil Complex dates from 1450 to 1750. Four of these complexes can be further subdivided into early and late phases. The Central Peten area can be divided into two regions based on ceramics. One is the area around the lakes Salpeten, Macanche, Yaxha, and Yalloch. The other is the area around Lake Peten and the Belize Valley. The ceramic differences reflect regionalism among the ancient Maya.[6]


During the transition between the Late Preclassic and Early Classic periods Maya society underwent a fundamental reorganization. A different kind of architecture, known as the E-Group, emerged during this period.[7] E groups are astronomically significant constructions. In this area, the emergence of the E group is contemporaneous with the appearance of the stela cult at Tayasal. E groups were eventually replaced by the Plaza Plan 2 Group. Buildings that fit into the Plaza Plan 2 arrangement at Tayasal were constructed during the Late Classic period.


Tayasal can be connected to other Maya sites iconographically. Monuments on panels at the site may represent sky figures.[8] A figure is depicted sitting down being eaten by a snake on two stelae from Flores. A diving God is also depicted. Two figures depicted above the head of an important figure in the sky, which have been dubbed “sky figures” are also found in the iconography around the Peten. Scholars feel that these sky figures are related to earlier iconography in other Maya areas, specifically Yaxchilan (1985 Troubled: 105). This shows that Tayasal shared a similar iconography and probably ideology with other Maya centers,[9] but it also may represent the partitioning of a formerly homogenous Maya society. The fact that Tayasal is similar to other Maya sites, but also unique can be seen by examining the Tayasal vases. The vases accompanied an individual who was interred at Tayasal during the Late Classic period. The content on the vases is similar iconographically to what is found on other vases from approximately the same period in surrounding areas, but the fact that the vases were found in non-elite burials appears to be unique to Tayasal.[10]

Archaeological excavations

Tayasal has been excavated sporadically since the 1920s, beginning with Guthe’s excavation in 1921, continuing with Morley’s dig in 1937 to 1938, by several others in the 1950s and 60s. Despite the number of excavations that have taken place, relatively little is known about the regional archaeologically, the data pertaining to the Postclassic period is especially limited. Much of what is known today from the archaeological record from the intensive excavations of Tayasal were carried out by the University Museum of the University of Pennsylvania in the 1970s.[11] Archaeologists can encounter any number of problems during excavation which can lead to misinterpretation of the data, especially in Postclassic Maya sites where a lack of standardization of the ceramics and other factors makes reliable dating more difficult.[12] Excavations were done simultaneously with the sites of Cenote and Punta Nima. Data was also collected from thirty-four structures in the Tayasal-Paxcaman Zone and from islands in Lake Peten and Lake Quexil. Limited investigation was also conducted on the islands of Santa Barbara and Flores which revealed the presence of Postclassic populations.[13]

See also


  1. ^ Jones et al 1981, p. 531.
  2. ^ Chase, Arlen F. 1985 La Ceramica de la Zona Tayasal-Paxcaman Lago Peten Itza, Guatemala Philadelphia: University Museum, University of Pennsylvania.
  3. ^ Chase, Arlen F. 1976 Topoxte and Tayasal: Ethnohistory in Archaeology. American Antinquity 41 (2): 154-167.
  4. ^ Chase, Arlen F. 1982 Con Manos Arriba: Tayasal and Archaeology. American Antiquity 47 (1): 167-171.
  5. ^ Jones, Rice and Rice 1981.
  6. ^ Chase, Arlen F. 1984 The Ceramic Complexes of the Tayasal-Paxcaman Zone. Ceramic de Cultura Maya 13: 27-41.
  7. ^ Chase, Arlen F. 1985 Archaeology in the Maya Heartland: The Tayasal-Paxcaman Zone, Lake Peten, Guatemala. Archaeology 38 (1) 32-39.
  8. ^ Chase, Arlen F. 1985 "Troubled Times: The Archaeology and Iconography of the Terminal Classic Southern Lowland Maya," in M.G. Robertson and V.M. Fields, Eds., Fifth Palenque Round Table, 1983, Vol. VII, pp. 103-114, Pre-Columbian Art Research Institute, San Francisco.
  9. ^ Chase, Arlen F. 1985 Archaeology in the Maya Heartland: The Tayasal-Paxcaman Zone, Lake Peten, Guatemala. Archaeology 38 (1) 32-39.
  10. ^ Chase, Arlen F. 1985 Contextual Implications of Pictorial Vases from Tayasal, Peten in M.G. Robertson and E. Benson, Eds., Fourth Palenque Round Table, 1980. Vol VI, pp. 193-201, Precolumbian Art Research Institute San Francisco.
  11. ^ Chase, Arlen F. 1979 Regional Development in the Tayasal-Paxcaman Zone, El Peten, Guatemala: A Preliminary Statement. Ceramic de Cultura Maya 11: 86-119.
  12. ^ Chase, Arlen F. 1986 "Time Depth or Vacuum: The Correlation and the Lowland Maya Postclassic," in J.A. Sabloff and E.W. Andrews V, Eds., Late Lowland Maya Civilization: Classic to Postclassic, pp. 99-140, University of New Mexico Press, Albuquerque
  13. ^ Chase, Arlen F. 1985 "Postclassic Peten Interaction Spheres: The View from Tayasal," in A. Chase and P. Rice, Eds., The Lowland Maya Postclassic, pp. 184-205, University of Texas Press, Austin.


Jones, Grant D.; Don S. Rice; Prudence M. Rice (July 1981). "The Location of Tayasal: A Reconsideration in Light of Peten Maya Ethnohistory and Archaeology" (  (subscription required)
Jones, Grant D. (1998). The Conquest of the Last Maya Kingdom. Stanford, CA:  

External links

  • History and Photos from Tayasal, Zacpetén and Queixil Islands

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