The Slovenia Times

Archaeologist Šprajc returns to Yucatan for vital answers about the Maya


Šprajc has been leading archaeological research in the Yucatan peninsula for more than 20 years. His latest expedition to the region bordering Guatemala, which is covered in a thick tropical rainforest, was between March and May, and he presented his findings to reporters in Ljubljana last week.

"This time we set out to explore Maya villages and daily life ... Our intention was to find answers to more vital questions about the economy, trade links," says Šprajc, who heads the Institute of Anthropological and Spatial Studies at the Research Centre of the Slovenian Academy of Sciences and Arts.

Šprajc's team established not only that the region was densely populated, but they also discovered a series of agricultural modifications of the terrain such as terraces, plot divisions and channels, which Šprajc says appear to have served for irrigation or drainage.

The discovery of the three major urban Mayan centres aroused international attention due to their monumental architecture and stone monuments carved with Mayan glyphs. They were located in what until then had been unexplored section of the uninhabited and densely forested Calakmul Biosphere Reserve.

After obtaining more detailed data for an about 200 square-kilometre large area in the vicinity of the three urban centres by means of areal laser scanning using LiDAR (Light Detection And Ranging) technology, Šprajc's team's research and test excavations yielded several previously unknown details.

Šprajc describes what they found as a fossilised cultural landscape, the advantage of their research being that the archaeological remains are not disturbed.

"We usually work where life has continued until today and the archaeological remains there are ruined or badly damaged. However, since 1,000 when this culture collapsed nothing happened there, except for the destructive natural elements."

Focussing on the northern section of the LiDAR scanned area, the team discovered small-sized pyramid structures, many residential structures, ceramics and stone artefacts.

Šprajc was surprised by the great number of arched buildings and playgrounds for ball games, which suggests a relative prosperity for the time even in rural areas.

"In the final decades ahead of the collapse of the Maya civilisation we again note a tendency toward centralisation, autocracy, and much large social differences with luxury objects limited to a narrow elite. This is something that could not last and led to the disaster in the 9th and 10th centuries."

This should make for an instructive message for today, but Šprajc told an interview with the public broadcaster TV Slovenija that many politicians would not learn from the past.

Based on ceramic patterns, Šprajc and his team would like to ascertain more about the settlement of the region, its links with other parts populated by the Maya and the political geography of the area through each period. Next year they plan to explore the south section of the scanned area.

The latest expedition was conducted by the Chactun Regional Project: Study of an Archaeological Landscape in the Central Maya Lowlands, financed by the Slovenian Research Agency with additional financial support by several companies and private investors from the US, Slovenia, Austria and Mexico.


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