The arrival of strangers

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Science  28 Feb 2020:
Vol. 367, Issue 6481, pp. 968-973
DOI: 10.1126/science.367.6481.968

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New evidence from both Teotihuacan and the Maya region has brought the relationship between those two great Mesoamerican cultures into the spotlight—and hints it may have been more contentious than most researchers thought. Stone monuments from the ancient Maya city of Tikal record a pivotal event in that city's history on 16 January 378: a possible invasion by Teotihuacan, the central Mexican metropolis 1000 kilometers away. Some archaeologists believe Teotihuacan added Tikal to a sweeping empire that may have included several Maya cities. Defaced art in Teotihuacan suggests that about the time Tikal fell under its sway, Teotihuacan may have turned against Maya expatriates who had lived there peacefully for decades. But doubts about that narrative persist. Some researchers say the events of 378 may have been a more limited case of palace intrigue, with the nobles of one powerful region elbowing their way into the politics of another. Archaeologists might even be falling for ancient propaganda: Tikal's conquerors may have been local Maya usurpers who appropriated the symbolism of faraway Teotihuacan.

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