Excavating Ceibal and the Origins of Maya Civilization





There are various types of archaeology: small test pits, wide-area exposures, architectural reconstruction, regional survey, etc. Our strategy at the Maya site of Ceibal (also written as Seibal in English literature), in the tropical lowlands of western Guatemala, is decidedly a vertical pursuit. Dig deep and trace 2,000 years to Ceibal’s occupation history back to its beginning. This is our fifth season, and this year we have been working in the jungle since early January. Some of our excavations are now reaching a depth of seven meters, sequentially exposing, in some cases, more than 30 construction episodes.

We came to this site after completing 17 years of work at another Maya site in the same region, Aguateca. Our options were to start a new project in a different part of the Maya area or to stay in the same region. We chose the latter over the beaches in Quintana Roo and the cool, mosquito-free weather of the highlands mainly because we wanted to continue to foster relations with the local people whom we have been working with — in particular, underprivileged Q’eqchi’ Maya farmers. In this case, Ceibal was an obvious choice. It holds a special place in the history of Maya archaeology. In the 1960s, the site was explored by a team of archaeologists from Harvard University. Their survey and excavation revealed one of the longest occupation sequences in the southern lowlands, laying the groundwork for our understanding of pre-Hispanic Maya culture and society....


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