Uaxactun (pronounced [waʃakˈtun]) is an ancient ruin of the Maya civilization, located in the Petén Basin region of the Maya lowlands, in the present-day department of Petén, Guatemala. The site lies some 12 miles (19 km) north of the major center of Tikal. The name is sometimes spelled as Waxaktun.
History of discovery
With recent achievements in the decipherment of the ancient Maya hieroglyphic writing system, it has been determined that the ancient name for this site was something like Siaan K'aan or "Born in Heaven". The name "Uaxactun" was given to the site by its rediscoverer, United States archeologist Sylvanus Morley, in May 1916. He coined the name from Maya words Waxac and Tun, to mean "Eight Stones". The name has two meanings; the Morley's stated reason for the name was to commemorate it as the first site where an inscription dating from the 8th Baktún of the Maya calendar was discovered (making it then the earliest known Maya date). The other meaning is a pun, since "Uaxactun" sounds like "Washington", the U.S. capital and home of the Carnegie Institute which funded Morley's explorations.
Morley's initial investigation of the site mostly focused on the hieroglyphic inscriptions, after this Uaxactun was not visited again until 1924, when Frans Blom made a more detailed investigation of the structures and mapped the site. The Carnegie Institution conducted archeological excavations here from 1926 through 1937, led by Oliver Ricketson. The excavations added greatly to knowledge of the early Classic and pre-Classic Maya. The remains of several badly ruined late Classic era temple-pyramids were removed, revealing well preserved earlier temples underneath them.
For most of the Carnegie team's time at Uaxactun, communication with the outside world was via a 4 day mule convoy to El Cayo, British Honduras. Towards the end of the time an airstrip was opened up. Flights to Uaxactun continued and a small village grew here, as it became a center for gathering of chicle sap from the Peten jungle. In 1940 A.L. Smith and Ed Shook of the Carnegie project returned to make some additional excavations. In the late 1970s a rough road was opened up, connecting Uaxactun to Tikal and thence to Flores, Guatemala. Airflights were discontinued. In 1984 the road was much improved. Shook returned again in 1974 to oversee consolidation and restoration of some architecture excavated earlier. In 1982 Guatemala's Tikal National Park was expanded to included the ruins of Uaxactun within its protected area. In 1990 de Maya Biosphere Reserve (MBR) was created, including Uaxactun as a part of the reserve's Multiple Use Zone.
A war of conquest: Tikal against Uaxactun (378 AD)
Linda Schele, in A Forest of Kings devotes an entire chapter to a war between Tikal and Uaxactun, in which Uaxactun was defeated by forces led by Fire is Born (Siyaj K'ak', formerly identified as Smoking Frog) of Tikal. In this chapter, she also gives a brief overview of the known history of Uaxactun up to the final year of the war (378AD) and of the Uaxactun kings who claimed descent from Fire is Born. The combined political entity of Tikal/Uaxactun dominated the Guatemalan Petén for the following 180 years.
References in popular culture
Italian Giacinto Scelsi composed a piece in 1966 entitled Uaxuctum . It is subtitled: "The legend of the Maya city, destroyed by themselves for religious reasons".
Uaxactun was the location mentioned in the opening scene of the 1994 video game "Pitfall: The Mayan Adventure". The Game was released on various platforms from 1994 until 2009.
- Martin & Grube 2000, p.30.
- Gugliotta, Guy (August 2007). The Maya Glory and Ruin: The Kingmaker 212 (2). National Geographic. pp. 74–85.
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- Martin, Simon; and Nikolai Grube (2000). Chronicle of the Maya Kings and Queens: Deciphering the Dynasties of the Ancient Maya. London and New York: Thames & Hudson. ISBN 0-500-05103-8. OCLC 47358325.
- Schele, Linda; and David Freidel (1990). A Forest of Kings: The Untold Story of the Ancient Maya. New York: William Morrow. ISBN 0-688-07456-1. OCLC 21295769.
- Sharer, Robert J.; with Loa P. Traxler (2006). The Ancient Maya (6th edition (fully revised) ed.). Stanford, CA: Stanford University Press. ISBN 0-8047-4816-0. OCLC 28067148.
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