Ringing two abandoned pyramids are nine palaces “frozen in time” that may help unravel the mystery of the ancient Maya, reports an archaeological team.
Hidden in the hilly jungle, the ancient site of Kiuic (KIE-yuk) was one of dozens of ancient Maya centers abandoned in the Puuc region of Mexico’s Yucatan about 10 centuries ago. The latest discoveries from the site may capture the moment of departure.
“The people just walked away and left everything in place,” says archaeologist George Bey of Millsaps College in Jackson Miss., co-director of the Labna-Kiuic Regional Archaeological Project. “Until now, we had little evidence from the actual moment of abandonment, it’s a frozen moment in time.”
The ancient, or “classic” Maya were part of a Central American civilization best known for stepped pyramids, beautiful carvings and murals and the widespread abandonment of cities around 900 A.D. in southern Mexico, Guatemala, Belize and El Salvador. They headed for the northern Yucatan, where Spanish conquistadors met their descendants in the 1500s (6 million modern Maya still live in Central America today).
Past work by the team, led by Bey and Tomas Gallareta of Mexico’s National Institute of Archaeology and History, shows the Maya had inhabited the Puuc region since 500 B.C. So why they headed for the coast with their brethren is just part of the mystery of the Maya collapse.
New clues may come from Kiuic, where the archaeologists explored two pyramids and, most intriguingly, plantation palaces on the ridges ringing the center. Of particular interest: a hilltop complex nicknamed “Stairway to Heaven” by Gallareta (that’s “Escalera al Cieloa” for Spanish-speaking Led Zeppelin fans) because of a long staircase leading from Kiuic to a central plaza nearly a mile away.