Archaeologists discovered evidence that Teotihuacan influenced the Mayans in different ways long before the two states became enemies. Credit: Pinterest

Mystery Rulers From Pyramid City Teotihuacán Influenced Maya Empire

The new discovery suggests that Tikal and Teotihuacan were allies long before the invasion of Teotihuacan in 378 CE.

An international team of researchers has identified a mysterious object in the ancient Mayan city of Tikal. It turned out to be the building of the embassy of the neighboring state of Teotihuacan.


It all began in 2018, when the Mayan city of Tikal, located in the north of modern Guatemala, was surveyed from an airplane using LIDAR – a special laser radar technology capable of revealing structures beneath the thick jungle and even the surface.

Laser beams have helped to accurately map the location of many ancient buildings hidden in the jungle. In the southern part of the city, they discovered a large enclosed courtyard with a pyramid on its eastern side.

After examining the new images, archaeologists have established that the found object looks exactly like the citadel of Teotihuacan, but only as a smaller version of it. This surprised the researchers very much because Teotihuacan was a metropolis of Mesoamerica, located in the central part of Mexico.

LiDAR image of groups 6D-III and 6D-XXI, in which traces of the close link between Tikal and Teotihuacán were found. (Free Press Photo: courtesy of Pacunam LiDAR Initiative / Thomas Garrison)
LiDAR image of groups 6D-III and 6D-XXI, in which traces of the close link between Tikal and Teotihuacán were found. (Free Press Photo: courtesy of Pacunam LiDAR Initiative / Thomas Garrison)

To find out if the citadel of Tikal has any other connection with Teotihuacan besides the external similarity, a team led by archaeologist Edwin Roman Ramirez of the Mayan Cultural and Natural Heritage Foundation began field work.

During the excavation of the citadel of Tikal and two other nearby buildings, researchers discovered weapons made in the typical Teotihuacan style. Some items were made from green obsidian that originates from central Mexico.

Tikal and Teotihuacan – from allies to enemies?

In addition, fragments of pipes that were used in the religious and political ceremonies of Teotihuacan, carvings of the rain god Teotihuacan, and even a Teotihuacan-style burial with offerings have been unearthed.

The coronavirus pandemic interrupted the study for a while. But after its renewal, scientists carried out radiocarbon dating of Tikal’s citadel. It showed that this structure was built around 300 AD.

Dating allowed scientists to put forward a bold hypothesis – the excavated citadel of Tikal was in fact what would today be called the embassy of a friendly state. The fact is that it was built almost a century before the alleged invasion of Tikal by the troops of Teotihuacan. This speaks of a friendship that suddenly fell apart.

Comparison of the Citadel of Teotihuacan with the newly discovered "embassy" building in Tikal. Credit: Prensa Libre
Comparison of the Citadel of Teotihuacan with the newly discovered “embassy” building in Tikal. Credit: Prensa Libre

Inscriptions on the walls in Tikal that were deciphered earlier told scientists that January 16, 378 AD was a turning point in the history of the ancient Maya. On this day, the king of Tikal died. Historians suggest that he was killed by the invaders. After his death, the son of the victorious king became the new ruler of Tikal.

According to scientists, the findings suggest that there were strong early ties between Tikal and Teotihuacan, which were at least relatively diplomatic and friendly. And suddenly something went wrong. At some point, the cities fell out, which led to the invasion and seizure of power.

Now scientists believe that the ancient embassy in Tikal could have been used by the ruler of Teotihuacan as an outpost to seize power. However, it is possible that Tikal also had a similar outpost in the ancient city in Mexico.

The fact is that not so long ago, in the very center of Teotihuacan, scientists discovered a luxurious complex, clearly built for the elite of society. Its walls were decorated with rich colorful frescoes. This led archaeologists to speculate that Mayan aristocrats or their diplomats lived here.

It was also established that these murals were deliberately smashed to smithereens and buried deep. It happened just during the conquest of Tikal in 378 AD, which also hints at a sudden transition from diplomacy to violence.


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Sources:

Canuto, M., Estrada-Belli, F., Garrison, T., Houston, S., Acuña, M., Kováč, M., . . . Shrestha, R. (2018, September 28). Ancient lowland Maya complexity as revealed by airborne laser scanning of northern Guatemala.
Martínez, P. (2021, April 13). Tikal: Los NUEVOS Hallazgos QUE revelan que Fue una Gran metrópoli multicultural maya.
Wade, L. (2020, February 27). ‘Astounding new finds’ suggest ancient empire may be hiding in plain sight.
Wade, L., Malakoff, D., Kupferschmidt, K., Kaiser, J., Mervis, J., Cho, A., & Moutinho, S. (2021, April 08). Possible ’embassy’ in ancient Maya city illuminates the birth of an empire.

Written by Vladislav Tchakarov

Hello, my name is Vladislav and I am glad to have you here on Curiosmos. My experience as a freelance writer began in 2018 but I have been part of the Curiosmos family since mid-2020. As a history student, I have a strong passion for history and science, and the opportunity to research and write in this field on a daily basis is a dream come true.

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