Archeologists have discovered the remains of a large Maya city that was lost for centuries in the jungles of Mexico’s Yucutan peninsula. The site reportedly covers more than 54 acres and contains pyramids, plazas, ball courts, and upright stone slabs often bearing commemorative inscriptions, called stelae. Among the 15 pyramids found, one stands as high as 75 feet.
Located 75 miles due west of Chetumal in the southeastern region of the state of Campeche on the Calakmul Biosphere Reserve, the newly found city has been named Chactun, meaning “Red Stone” or “Great Stone,” according to Discovery News.
Lead archaeologist Ivan Sprajc, associate professor at the Slovenian Academy of Sciences and Arts, believes as many as 30,000 or 40,000 people could have once lived in the city, though he cautioned that additional research was needed for a more confident estimate. Sprajc thinks Chactun likely flourished during the late Classic period of Maya civilization, between about 600 A.D. and 900 A.D.
Sprajc and his team were able to identify the site as one containing ruins by reviewing large-scale aerial photographs taken from 1996 on by the Archeological Reconnaissance Project in Southeastern Campeche. Although eighty sites had previously been identified this way, Chactun’s secrets remained hidden. Then, according to project leaders, the team examined photos of northern part of the Calakmul Biosphere Reserve and identified many features that seemed to suggest the presence of architectural ruins, according to reports.
To get to the site, the team had to hack their way through tropical jungle by cutting away vegetation along an abandoned lumber trail, Sprajc told Discovery News. Prior to Chactun’s discovery, the region where it is located was “a total blank” to archeologists and historians of Maya culture, Sprajc said. He and his team were surprised, he added, to find the city to be even larger than expected and were particularly impressed with both the number and size of the structures they found.
Chactun reportedly consists of three monumental complexes and contains numerous stelae and altars. One of the stelae records that ruler K’inich B’ahlam ordered the building of the Red Stone (or Great) in 751, according to a preliminary interpretation by Octavio Esparza Olguin from the National Autonomous University of Mexico. According to Esparza, many of the inscribed stones had been reused in later times and there is evidence that, although they appear to have been objects of worship, their meaning apparently had long been forgotten.
While the discovery ends the mystery regarding the location of Chactun, scientists say it still remains unclear why the society eventually crumbled. Some have speculated that environmental pressures and a lack of natural resources could have driven the Mayan people from the city, while others have suggested that political instability is to blame.
It remains unclear whether scientists will launch a full-fledged research mission to unearth other parts of the city. The size of the city could eventually draw thousands of tourist each year, according to preliminary estimates, although a tourist industry built on Chactun ruins is still likely ten to fifteen years away.
The discovery comes as archaeologists around the world have unearthed the ruins of various cities. Scientists earlier this year unearthed an ancient underwater city located near Alexandria, Egypt. According to scientists, the ancient port city of Heracleion now lies under the waters of Aboukir Bay northeast of Alexandria.