BERLIN – The Maya city of Santa Rosa Xtampak remains largely covered by jungle, but a team of archaeologists will try to reveal details of its origin and relationship with other contemporaneous cities on Mexico’s Yucatan Peninsula.
Other world renowned archaeological sites, like Chichen Itza and Uxmal, have been the subjects of numerous studies, but this city – along with Edzna, considered to be the most significant hub of the Classical Maya Period between 250-900 A.D. in the central Yucatan Peninsula – has barely been excavated.
Researchers from Berlin’s Ibero-American Institute (IAI) and Mexico’s National Institute of Anthropology and History (INAH) in the city of Campeche are scheduled later this year to begin the first large-scale excavations in the area.
“Santa Rosa Xtampak is an important city. We know that because of the quantity and quality of its pre-Hispanic remains. It’s a site that has big monumental buildings, stelae and is little known,” archaeologist Antonio Benavides, INAH’s main researcher, told EFE.
He added in a long-distance conversation that the lack of knowledge is stimulating the team to learn more about the city’s role in the region and “its relationship with other contemporaneous cities.”
The ruins are located about 100 kilometers (62 miles) east of Campeche, the capital of Yucatan state, deep in the jungle but on top of a hill some 50 meters (164 feet) high.
On the summit, and buried in lush vegetation, is the city’s monumental center, which covers an area some 50 hectares (125 acres) in extent. Located there is one of the most outstanding Maya buildings ever discovered, a three-story palace with 44 vaulted rooms and two spiral interior staircases, which – Benavides said – is very unusual in the Maya world.
At the site are also a series of terraces and buildings arranged to form patios and plazas.
“Although it seems to be disordered, everything is organized, because it’s all oriented with the cardinal points,” he said, noting that the Maya built their structures in that way and each cardinal direction had its own god and color associated with it.
Previous exploration at the site has revealed that the city seems to have covered about 10 square kilometers (about 3.8 square miles).
“One must remember that the Maya society was always a pyramid, with an elite on top, at the pyramid’s point, and they were the ones who governed and maintained control (of the populace) through religion. But outside that center was where the common people lived,” he said.
At Santa Rosa, the jungle vegetation is so dense that visitors “can get lost if they don’t go along the open paths,” the Mexican scientist said.
Iken Paap, an archaeologist with the IAI, added from Berlin that the team had to cut down trees that had damaged the archaeological ruins and that, because of the dense jungle all around, not much is yet known about the monumental center of Santa Rosa Xtampak.
The first scientists to investigate the city were the American John Lloyd Stephens and Britain’s Frederick Catherwood in 1841, and then 50 years later Austrian-German Teoberto Maler (1842-1917) also came to the site to do research.
The IAI is preserving as much as possible of Maler’s work, digitalizing it and making it available online, including his field diaries and an important collection of photographs he took documenting the state of the ruins more than a century ago.
“In the late 1960s a team of archaeologists from Utah arrived and dug some stratigraphic shafts, and two years ago colleagues from the INAH accompanied their work with new shafts but excavating on a large scale, what’s below the ground, was hardly done at all,” Paap said.
Benavides also said that some plans of the city were prepared, although he noted that they are incomplete and contain mistakes.
What is known at this point is that the city was first occupied around 500 A.D. and attained regional importance during the Late Classical Period from 700-1000 A.D., and that it can play a key role in illuminating the economic and sociopolitical structure of the central Yucatan region.
Although excavation was scheduled to begin in January 2021, due to the COVID-19 pandemic it is not known precisely when that work will actually commence.