The plebeians may have played an unwelcome part in the rise of the ancient Maya royal dynasty.
Their masters were called “gods” at the Maya site of Tamarindito in what is now Guatemala, and left glowing hieroglyphic tributes to them as heads of a powerful “Leafed Book” dynasty.
But the new findings indicate that the bigwigs among the Tamarids spent many ages waiting for their subjects to show off, or perhaps strategies to attract followers, say archaeologist and epigrapher Markus Eberl of Vanderbilt University in Nashville and colleagues.
The kings of the Tamarindites founded their capital from about the year 400 as a mere village of a few perhaps a dozen people who consist of a royal court and two residential clusters for the non-elite, scholars report on November 4. Latin antiquity.
It took about 150 years for people to start flocking to Tamaridito so that the rulers of the site could increase their power, Eberl says. At that point, the leaders of the Foliated Scroll founded a smaller city, a second city, and several other settlements in northern Guatemala. Those rulers went on to achieve the peak of power roughly between the years 550 and 800.
The royal art and writing at Tamarind and other Classic Maya sites suggest that the kings exercised absolute power, argues Eberl. “In the case of Tamarindito, Maya officials legitimized their power and built power, likely negotiating and persuading non-elites to become subjects.”
Hieroglyphics proclaiming divine power and the mythological origins of the Foliated Book of Princes have been sought since the discovery of the Tamarinds in 1958. The hieroglyphic emblem of their chiefs depicted the curly stem of a water lily native to lower Guatemala. Over seven field seasons beginning in 2009, Eberl’s group excavated and surveyed much of the site and documented all surviving royal inscriptions.
Illegal logging in Tamaridi has made it possible to identify most of the structural sites on the ground.
No signs of a precursor settlement were found at Tamaridit, a good site for studying how Maya rulers built a power center from scratch, Eberl says.
At an early stage, Tamarindito was insisted upon as a ceremonial center that surmounted a pyramid, a royal palace, and a large plaza on a 70-meter-high hill. That ritual area, with the plaza as its center, was a small function. From 23 to 31 workers built those structures in 25 years, researchers estimate.
But the royal ambitions of the Foliated Scroll princes, as expressed in the ritual medium, were quite disparate in terms of demographics. Despite the sparse number of locations, the Tamarind plaza initially provides space for about 1,650 people to gather, Eberl says. It is suspected that any public meeting would have failed far from the crowd of the people in the plaza.
The types of decorated pottery from 43 groups of non-elite dwellings at Tamariditos which broadly date to between 600 and 850, when most of the inhabitants came to the site, the researchers say “several years after the city was founded. The ritual plaza was expanded at that time.
The Maya people also built larger ceremonial plazas than the one at Tamarind for about 3,000 years (SN: 6/3/20). Those ritual centers may have been frequented by groups scattered across vast regions, says archaeologist Francisco Estrada-Belli of Tulane University in New Orleans.
It is unclear whether enough ancient settlements existed within the day’s walk of the Tamarinds to support large gatherings on special occasions, says Estrada-Belli, who was not involved in the new study. It is suspected that the rulers of Tamarind signified their power over a large region by constructing an impressive ritual center.
Even at its peak, no more than several thousand people lived in Tamarind, Eberl says. This is a surprising number, since aerial laser maps reported by Estrada-Belli and colleagues have revealed large, interconnected Maya cities already obscured by forests in other parts of northern Guatemala (SN: 9/27/18).
The next step, Estrada-Belli says, is to assemble an aerial laser map of at least 100 square kilometers around Tamarindite to see if it has been built in relative isolation.
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