It may have taken generations for some Maya rulers to attract subjects



The common people may have played an unappreciated role in the rise of the ancient Maya royal dynasty.

They described themselves as “divine lords” at a Maya site called Tamarindito in what is now Guatemala and left a glowing hieroglyphic tribute to themselves as heads of a powerful “laminated scroll” dynasty.

But the new findings suggest that Tamarindito’s dignitaries spent many generations waiting for their subjects to appear, or perhaps devising plans to attract followers, say archaeologist and archaeologist Marcus Eberle of Vanderbilt University in Nashville and colleagues.

The Tamarindito kings established their capital by about the year 400 Just a small village of maybe a few dozen peopleconsisting of the royal court and two residential congregations for non-elites, scholars report November 4 at Antiquity of Latin America.

It took about 150 years, says Eberle, for enough people to arrive in Tamarindito to enable the rulers of the site to extend their power. At that point, the rulers of the Foliated Scroll established a second, smaller capital and several other settlements in northern Guatemala. These rulers would go on to achieve a peak of power roughly between 550 and 800.

Eberle claims that royal art and writing at Tamarindito and other Classic Maya sites misleadingly indicate that kings wielded absolute power. In the case of Tamarindito, Maya rulers had to legitimize their power and build power, and they were likely to negotiate with and persuade non-elites to “become subjects.”

Hieroglyphs claiming the divine power and mythical origins of rulers of vellum have been studied since the discovery of Tamarindito in 1958. The hieroglyphic emblem of these rulers depicted the wrinkled stem of a water lily native to the lowlands of Guatemala. Over the course of seven field seasons beginning in 2009, Eberle’s group excavated and surveyed much of the site and documented all surviving royal inscriptions.

Illegal logging in Tamarindito has enabled most of the site’s structures to be identified in ground surveys.

No signs of a previous settlement of Tamarindito have been found, Eberle says, making the site a good place to study how Maya rulers built a power center from scratch.

Early activity in Tamarindito focused on building a ceremonial center consisting of a pyramid, a royal palace, and a large plaza atop a 70-meter-high hill. That ritual area, of which the central square was the centerpiece, was a relatively small project. Researchers estimate that 23 to 31 workers could have built the structures in 25 years.

But the royal ambitions of the rulers of the Foliated Scroll, as expressed in the ritual center, far exceeded demographic reality. Despite the small number of local residents, Eberle says, Tamarindito Square initially provided space for about 1,650 people to congregate. It is suspected that any public gathering would be well below the square’s crowd capacity.

Investigators say the ornate pottery styles recovered from 43 clusters of non-elite dwellings in Tamarindito date largely to between 600 and 850, when most of the site’s inhabitants arrived – several hundred years after the city’s founding. The ritual arena was expanded during that time period.

It was built by the Mayan people The ceremonial arenas are larger than those in Tamarindito about 3000 years ago (SN: 6/3/20). These ritual centers may have periodically attended groups spread over vast areas, says archaeologist Francisco Estrada Pelli of Tulane University in New Orleans.

It’s unclear whether there were enough ancient settlements within a day’s radius of Tamarindito to support large gatherings in the plaza on special occasions, says Estrada Pelli, who was not involved in the new study. The rulers of Tamarindito demonstrated their power over a wide area by building, it is believed, an impressive ritual centre.

Even at its peak, says Eberle, no more than several thousand people lived in Tamarindito. This is a surprisingly limited number given that atmospheric laser maps reported by Estrada-Belli and colleagues revealed a large number, The interconnected Mayan cities are now obscured by forests In other parts of northern Guatemala (SN: 9/27/18).

The next step, Estrada Pelle says, is to compile an aerial laser map of at least 100 square kilometers around Tamarindito to see if it is built in relative isolation.



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