Saturday, March 2, 2013

Yet More Mayan Ruins

Pretty much everyone knows something about Palenque, Tikal, and Chichen Itza, but most people have never heard of Toniná, Tenam Puente, or Chinkultic.

I've written about Toniná several times as it's one of my favorite Mayan ruins, but recent visits to Chinkultic and Tenam Puente are rivaling it for favorite.

View from the tallest temple in Tenam Puente
These two, virtually unknown cities represent the last 300 years of Mayan dominance in the region. The big collapse happened around 900AD. Toniná has the last known long-count date of 909AD for the classic period. The widespread downfall was a result of many factors, over population, ecological depletion, and starvation being the big ones. Tenam Puente and Chinkultic were off on the western edge of the Mayan world, not as easy to get to and dominate, not powerful enough to aggressively take advantage of the serious problems plaguing Palenque like Toniná did.

So these cities survived the collapse and lasted another 300 years, until finally being abandoned in 1200AD.

Chinkultic is built up the side of a mountain giving it a commanding view of the valley and lakes. It can be seen from the highway, glistening edifices marching up the side of a green mountain. It is the only city in Chiapas to have a cenote, a sinkhole lake fed by underground springs. Cenotes were used as receptacles for sacrificial victims, some of whom where tossed in already dead, and some still alive. Several hundred feet below the highest temple, the cenote's water would have been a hard landing and probably fatal to anyone falling in. Archeologists have found some personal artifacts at the bottom of the cenote including jade jewelry.

Well proportioned pyramid in
Tenam Puente
Tenam Puente has a leveled layout without any one temple outshining another on the long flat area at the top. A series of three temples were the last built and completed towards the end of 1200AD. These three were built on the same flattened level as the previous temples, all of which are lined up and appear to face west, even though the commanding view is to the east. From that high level there are several terraces descending west, with temples, buildings, and three ballcourts. The highest court is smaller than the usual size. It gave me the impression of being a children's training court, a "soccer field" for six-year-olds. Of course that's a cultural bias 800 years after the fact! The second level ball court appears to be the normal size but missing much of the "stadium" seating. Only the lowest one is large with many steps leading down to it for the spectators.

Neither of these sites have a museum. There is only a room at the office with posters and information in Spanish mostly, though Tenam Puente had much more English signage. Both sites had stelae describing the feats and accomplishments of the elite rulers, and both have yielded well preserved carved stone artifacts, now in the national museum in Mexico City.

Tenam Puente is about 8 kilometers from Comitán, while Chinkultic is about an hour's drive away, and part of the Lagunas Montebello National Park. There wasn't much in the information about the two sites relationship with each other.  I would guess they are about 50-60 kilometers apart, probably far enough in the days before roads and beasts of burden to remain relatively friendly.


Tenam Puente

Youngest three temples, Tenam Puente

The Cenote at Chinkultic
Sacrificing platform, Chinkultic

Highest pyramid, Chinkultic

View down into the mostly unexcavated area,
from the top of Chinkultic