Early Ceremonial Constructions at Ceibal, Guatemala, and the Origins of Lowland Maya Civilization

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Science  26 Apr 2013:
Vol. 340, Issue 6131, pp. 467-471
DOI: 10.1126/science.1234493

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Early Mayan Architects

Lowland Mayan civilizations began to construct dramatic pyramids beginning about 900 BCE. The cultural origins of these civilizations have been uncertain, particularly the connection to earlier Olmec cultures along the Gulf of Mexico. Inomata et al. (p. 467; see the cover; see the News story by Pringle) describe excavations and extensive radiocarbon dating at the early Mayan city of Ceibal in Guatamala. The site shows incipient plaza and pyramid construction beginning before those seen in the lowlands or Olmec areas, suggesting a broader cultural exchange through to the Pacific Coast as Mayan cultures evolved.


The spread of plaza-pyramid complexes across southern Mesoamerica during the early Middle Preclassic period (1000 to 700 BCE) provides critical information regarding the origins of lowland Maya civilization and the role of the Gulf Coast Olmec. Recent excavations at the Maya site of Ceibal, Guatemala, documented the growth of a formal ceremonial space into a plaza-pyramid complex that predated comparable buildings at other lowland Maya sites and major occupations at the Olmec center of La Venta. The development of lowland Maya civilization did not result from one-directional influence from La Venta, but from interregional interactions, involving groups in the southwestern Maya lowlands, Chiapas, the Pacific Coast, and the southern Gulf Coast.

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