Discover an ancient Mayan city in the Mexican jungle

The Anthropological Institute of Mexico said on Tuesday that a previously unknown ancient Maya city had been discovered in the jungles of southern Mexico, adding that it was an important center likely more than a thousand years ago.

INAH said the city featured pyramid-like buildings, stone pillars, and three squares with “majestic buildings” and other structures arranged in semi-concentric circles.

The agency said the city, which it named Ocomtun – which means “stone pillar” in the Yucatec Maya language – would have been an important center of the peninsula’s central lowland region between AD 250 and 1000.

It is located in the Palamco Ecological Reserve on the country’s Yucatan Peninsula and was discovered during a search for a largely unexplored stretch of jungle larger than Luxembourg. The search was done between March and June using laser aerial mapping (LiDAR) technology.

Known for their advanced mathematical calendars, the Maya civilization extended to southeastern Mexico and parts of Central America. Widespread political collapse set it back centuries before the arrival of the Spanish conquistadors, whose military campaign saw the fall of their last strongholds in the late 17th century.

The Ocomton site contains a core area, located on higher ground surrounded by vast wetlands, that includes numerous pyramid-like structures up to 15 meters high, said senior archaeologist Ivan Sprajc, in a statement.

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The city also had a ball field. Pre-Hispanic ball games, common throughout the Maya region, consisted of passing a rubber ball representing the sun across the court without using hands and inserting it through a small stone hoop. It is believed that the game had an important religious purpose.

Sprajc said his team also found central altars in an area closer to the La Riguena River, which may have been designed for the community’s rituals, though more research is needed to understand what cultures lived there before.

He said the site likely declined by about AD 800 to 1000 given the materials excavated from the buildings, adding that this may have been a reflection of the “ideological and population changes” that led to the collapse of Maya societies in that region by the 10th century.

Reporting by Sarah Moreland. Editing by Edwina Gibbs

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