A team of international archaeologists (led by the University of Arizona) made an incredible discovery when they came across the largest and oldest Mayan structure ever found to date. The 3,000-year-old temple site is called Aquada Fénix and is located in Tabasco, Mexico. As for its gigantic size, it measures 4,600 feet in length by 50 feet in height.
The Maya civilization has thrived for almost 3,000 years in Central America. They were known for having the only full written language during the pre-Columbian Americas as well as creating exceptionally advanced architecture and art. They were able to build structures that helped greatly with their agriculture. Additionally, they are well known for their incredible understanding of math and astronomy that went into building some structures like the pyramid at Chichen Itza. During the spring and fall equinoxes, the setting sun makes the pyramid cast a shadow on itself which makes the serpent appear as though it’s slithering towards the ground.
The newly discovered structure is quite unique because most other Mayan temples contain stone sculptures that depict ancient rulers and elite members of society, however, Aquada Fénix doesn’t have those. This suggests that those who constructed the temple were firm believers that everyone was equal and they didn’t have to create sculptures of those in a higher social standard.
The team used lidar technology to find the temple back in 2017 but their findings were only recently published in the journal Nature and can be read here. When the laser-emitting equipment mapped out the temple, the team began excavating the area. After radiocarbon-dating 69 samples of charcoal, they were able to confirm that the structure was built between 1,000 BC and 800 BC. Prior to this discovery, the Mayan site of Ceibal was the oldest ceremonial center which was constructed in 950 BC.
As for the newest discovery, the team said, “This area is developed - it's not the jungle; people live there - but this site was not known because it is so flat and huge. It just looks like a natural landscape. But with lidar, it pops up as a very well-planned shape.”
One of the study’s authors, Takeshi Inomata, said that this new discovery shows the change in Mesoamerica during that time period. It was initially believed that the Maya civilization gradually developed with villages starting to show up between 1000 BC and 350 BC. And while the structure looks similar to the Olmec civilization center in San Lorenzo, it doesn’t have rulers depicted on the sculptures.
Inomata explained this further, “There has always been debate over whether Olmec civilization led to the development of the Maya civilization or if the Maya developed independently.” “So, our study focuses on a key area between the two.”
He went on to say, “During later periods, there were powerful rulers and administrative systems in which the people were ordered to do the work,” adding, “But this site is much earlier, and we don't see the evidence of the presence of powerful elites. We think that it's more the result of communal work.”
The team plans to conduct a more detailed lidar scan of the site to find out as much information as possible about Aquada Fénix and the ancient Maya culture. Aerial pictures of the site can be seen here.