Campeche Logo Archaeological Reconnaissance in Southeastern Campeche, Mexico


This interactive website presents the distribution of archaeological sites in the southeastern part of the Mexican federal state of Campeche, and the corresponding illustrative material. The information derives from nine field seasons of archaeological reconnaissance, accomplished from 1996 to 2014 and directed by Ivan Šprajc. While the field data and interpretations resulting from the first eight seasons are exhaustively presented in three monographs (Šprajc 2008; 2015; Šprajc et al. 2014) the material shown here is intended to be used as a complementary source of information. The publication of results of the 2014 season is still in preparation.

The area of our surveys is located south and north of the Mexican federal highway no. 186, which crosses the Yucatan peninsula in the east-west direction, communicating the cities of Chetumal and Escárcega. In a sparsely populated strip of land, around 30 km wide and extending south of the modern town of Xpujil along the border between Mexico and Belize, colonization started about four decades ago, and the land is alloted mostly to ejidos (rural communities enjoying usufruct rights to the land held in common); the remaining territory belongs to the Calakmul Biosphere Reserve, declared as a protected area in 1989 and nowadays without permanent population.

Before our surveys started, in 1996, some of the most extensive blanks on the archaeological map of the Maya area were located precisely in these central parts of the Yucatan peninsula. While the Río Bec region, defined by its typical architectural style, was relatively well known, very few archaeological data were available for the area lying south and southwest of the former and extending between the Río Candelaria and the border between Mexico and Belize (cf. Ruz 1945: 11). Until the intensive research in the area of Calakmul began, in the early 1980s (cf. Folan 1994; Folan et al. 1995; Morales 1987; Carrasco 2000), Ruppert and Denison's monumental work (1943), resulting from four expeditions accomplished by the Carnegie Institution of Washington in 1932, 1933, 1934 and 1938, was practically the only source of information on some archaeological sites in this region, but the sites they reported were – according to Ruppert himself (Ruppert and Denison 1943: 1) – only a few of the largest and best preserved ones. The information on some additional sites reported afterwards (Ruz 1945; Müller 1959; 1960) is so scanty that they cannot even be identified in the field. Indeed, only few decades ago, Adams (1981: 216) affirmed that the sites in the area, except for El Palmar (Thompson 1936), “were all found by Ruppert and his Carnegie Institution surveys of the 1930s. Although some of the most impressive Maya sites lie here, notably Calakmul, no serious work has since been done in the zone.”

As an attempt to improve the situation, the reconnaissance works started in 1996 in the southeastern extreme of the state of Campeche, and continued in 1998, 2001, 2002, 2004, 2005 and 2007. We have recorded over 80 previously unknown archaeological sites, and have also managed to rediscover most of the sites that had been reported by Ruppert and Denison (1943), but whose location was later forgotten. Our surveys have revealed not only a great density of archaeological vestiges, comparable to the one observed in other parts of Maya Lowlands, but also the presence of major centers with extensive architectural complexes, sculpted monuments and hieroglyphic inscriptions. Aside from the two monographs (Šprajc 2008; Šprajc et al. 2014), presenting exhaustively the results of the first seven field seasons, those of particular seasons have been summarized in a number of preliminary reports (Šprajc 1998; 2001; 2002; 2003; 2002-2004; 2006; 2007; Šprajc et al. 1997a; 1997b; 2005; 2009; 2010; Šprajc and Juárez 2003; Šprajc and Suárez 1998; 2003; Grube 2005; Juárez et al. 2007).

In 2013 we started reconnaissance works in the northern section of the Calakmul Biosphere, in a vast archaeologically unsurveyed area extending between the Río Bec and Chenes regions over some 3000 sq km. The site of Chactún, discovered in 2013, is one of the largest urban centers known so far in the central Maya Lowlands (Šprajc 2015). Tamchén and Lagunita, other two major urban centers, were surveyed in 2014; the results are summarized in a short article (Šprajc et al. 2015), while a monograph is being prepared for publication.

The lidar data acquired in 2016 for an area of 200 sq km around Chactún, Tamchén and Lagunita revealed a great density of archaeological remains, including residential clusters and land modifications related to water management and intensive agriculture. The analyses of abundant information collected during field surveys accomplished in this area in 2017 and 2018 field seasons are in process. Only a preliminary report on the 2017 season is currently available (Šprajc et al. 2017).

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  Sponsor: Committee for Research and Exploration, National Geographic Society, U.S.A.   Sponsor: Foundation for the Advancement of Mesoamerican Studies, U.S.A.   Sponsor: Instituto Nacional de Antropología e Historia, Mexico   Sponsor: Universidad Autónoma de Campeche, Mexico   Sponsor: Scientific Research Center of the Slovenian Academy of Sciences and Arts, Slovenia   Sponsor: Ars longa, Travel Agency, Slovenia   Villas, Austria   Rio Bec Dreams, Mexico   Adria Kombi, Slovenia   Villas, Austria   Abanka, Slovenia   Rokus-Klett – National Geographic Slovenia   © 2008 -, ZRC SAZU