I’ve been staying close to home, working feverishly on a book manuscript, a sedentary task relieved only by a daily bicycle ride and occasional wonderful moments on the water, sailing. But enough of my somewhat cloistered existence these past months. . .

A fight to the collapse?

As always, Maya fieldwork proceeds at full speed, sometimes with fascinating results, at others with ones that are unusual, to say the least. El Mirador in Guatemala began as a small settlement in 850 BC and rapidly became one of the largest cities in the Americas before it suddenly imploded in AD 150. Quite why El Mirador ran into trouble is a mystery. One persistent explanation revolves around a prolonged drought that devastated a city dependent on large reservoirs. Now there’s a new one – a fight to the death. Excavations atop the El Tigre pyramid have unearthed hundreds of spear points and arrowheads, also bone fragments and broken pottery. Over 200 of them were crafted from obsidian, a volcanic glass that has been traced to a location in the Mexican highlands hundreds of kilometres away. The researchers, led by Richard Hanson of Idaho State University, are now DNA testing blood samples from the weapons. Hanson believes he has found the site of a final battle for a resource-depleted El Mirador, where about 200 people, perhaps the remnants of the royal family, made a last stand against invaders, perhaps warriors from the great city of Teotihuacán on the edge of the Basin of Mexico. This is stirring stuff in the finest romantic archaeological tradition, which makes for nice news headlines – but will Hanson’s theory stand up to the rigorous scientific testing that lies ahead? Only time will tell.


This article is an extract from the full article published in World Archaeology Issue 38. Click here to subscribe

Leave a Reply