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Back to school with Frontier: Lesson Two

Yesterday, Frontier explored the cenotes of the Yucatán Peninsula in Mexico. Today we are heading south to Guatemala to explore the infamous Mayan ruins of Tikal in our second lesson of the week: History


What is Tikal?

Tikal is a collection of over 3,000 structures forming what was once one of the largest and most powerful cities in Mesoamerica; population estimates are as high as 90,000 inhabitants. Tikal includes temples, palaces, pyramids, residences, religious monuments, administrative buildings and courts for playing the Mesoamerican ballgame. Although architecture dates from as early as 4th Century B.C., Tikal was at its peak during the Classic Period of 200 to 900 A.D., when Tikal politically, economically and militarily dominated most of the Mayan region.

The Temples:

Tikal’s main attraction consists of six large pyramids named Temples I – VI. These stone structures are famed for being amongst the tallest Mayan temples in Central America; Temple IV towers above the treetops at 72 metres and is reached by climbing a series of wooden steps and ladders – not for those with a fear of heights! Tombs have been discovered within many of the structures, suggesting their purpose was partly as funerary pyramids for ancient rulers. However, archeologists have noted how the temples face each other and the rooms at the summits contain depressions in the walls. These amplify the voice, meaning a Mayan standing atop one temple could be heard from the top of another temple, despite them being a surprising distance apart. Almost unbelievably, these complex structures were built in estimates of as little as two years.

The Ball Courts:

The popular Mesoamerican ballgame was widespread throughout Central America. Tikal was no exception and contained a total of seven courts, including the only recorded set of three courts in existence. Although the exact rules of the game are unknown due to a lack of surviving information, it is guessed that the main objective was to keep the ball in the air for as long as possible. The game varied according to time and place, but most players used their hips to hit a ball made of solid rubber and weighing as much as 4 kg – a painful process considering the players wore no armour! Despite this, it is thought children and even women participated in this recreational activity. The game also featured at formal events and sometimes contained ritual aspects such as human sacrifice.

How was Tikal discovered?

Although local Guatemalans were aware of Tikal’s existence, the remote location meant excavation did not begin until 1956. Tikal was partially restored by the University of Pennsylvania and later the government of Guatemala. However, due to a lack of funding and time (to uncover the present site of about 10 square miles took 13 years!), much of Tikal remains underground; a common problem amongst Mayan ruins. It is estimated Tikal may extend to 23 square miles in total and the unexcavated sections have the potential to teach us even more about the Mayan population.

Today, the site is part of Tikal National Park and a UNESCO World Heritage Site, open daily to visitors. Located within the largest area of tropical rainforest in Central America, the National Park boasts 54 species of mammal and over 2,000 plant species. Tikal’s combination of archaeological and ecological interest makes it a popular tourist attraction.

by Denise Bartlett

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What are the seven wonders of the ancient world?

What are the seven wonders of the natural world?

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Reader Comments (2)

Where have all the Mayans gone? These pyramids probably are among the most intriguing and the Mayans as well, I still couldn't figure out why their calendar ended Dec 21 2012. There's probably a good reason and not the ones that people are talking about like the end of the world -- that's scary.

September 14, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterHalley | Online Printing

Seven Wonders of the Ancient World

I: The Great Pyramid of Egypt

II: The Hanging Gardens of Babylon

III: The Statue of Zeus at Olympia

IV: The Temple of Artemis at Ephesus

V: The Mausoleum at Halicarnassus

VI: The Colossus of Rhodes

VII: The Lighthouse of Alexandria

September 15, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterCharlotte

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