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Exclusive: Archeologist discovers lost Mayan cities in Mexico jungle

mayan city

The following is an interview with Dr. Ivan Šprajc. Šprajc, with the Research Center of the Slovenian Academy of Sciences and Arts, located two Mayan cities not seen for decades. Researchers architecture and other symbols hinting at the power and politics of ancient Mayan culture. You can learn more here.

How long have scientists searched for Lagwinita?

After Eric Von Euw visited the site in late 1970s, there were several attempts to relocate the site, but all unsuccessful, because the exact coordinates were not known, and no systematic reconnaissance project was undertaken.

How important is this site (and the other, Tamchen) in understanding the Maya culture?

Tamchén and Lagunita, as well as Chactún, a large previously unreported site we found in 2013, are located at the southern extreme of a vast archaeologically unexplored area. Peculiar features found at the three sites indicate that future research in the unknown area will be very important for understanding the diversity and overall development of the Maya culture, interaction among different polities, and the details of Maya Lowland political geography.

Where do these finds fit with more well-known Mayan discoveries?

They are part of an on-going process. Some regions have received a lot of attention, particularly those readily accessible, and many sites have been excavated, but there are still quite a few large blanks on the archaeological map of the Maya area. Our surveys represent but a first step into one of such unexplored regions. A similar case was the extreme southeastern part of the Mexican state of Campeche, where in former seasons (since 1996) we located dozens of previously unknown sites (you can check our interactive map with lots of illustrations at: http://gis.zrc-sazu.si/campeche/).

Now that these cities are found, how does this change your research emphasis?

It depends on funding possibilities. This year our research was financed by Ken and Julie Jones from their KJJ Charitable Foundation (USA), private companies Villas (Austria), Hotel Río Bec Dreams (Mexico), Ars longa and Adria Kombi (Slovenia), as well as by enthusiastic individuals Martin Hobel and Aleš Obreza. As always, we were supported by the Mexican Instituto Nacional de Antropología e Historia (INAH). Talking to potential future sponsors, I may decide to either continue the reconnaissance works or focus on one site or a smaller area.

What’s it like to find these long-lost cities buried in the Mexican jungle?

We have had a number of such experiences so far, but the feelings are always the same: after several weeks of cutting our path through the bush and fighting with problems of all kind, a discovery of monumental buildings and stelae with inscriptions, all half-devoured by the jungle, is always extremely exciting; the bigger the problems that had to be overcome, the bigger the satisfacton. Last but no least, it is gratifying that most of the archaeological sites in the southern part of the Calakmul Biosphere, recently (this June) inscribed in the UNESCO World Heritage list as a mixed natural and cultural property, were found during our expeditions accomplished since 1996.