Famous Tikal Explorers

■ ANDRES DE AVENDANO: Considered the first white man to visit Tikal. In 1695, Avendano had been living with the Itzá when he discovered a plot to have him sacrificed by the seeming friendly King Canek. He fled the area and inadvertently stumbled onto Tikal while trying to make his way back to Merida in Mexico's Yucatán Peninsula. In his chronicles, he mentions passing through a city filled with grand white buildings.

■ AMBROSIO TUT & MODESTO MENDEZ: Ambrosio Tut, a chiclero, rediscovered the ruins while in the jungles gathering the sap of sapodilla trees. He reported his finding to Modesto Mendéz, the Governor and Magistrate of El Petén. Together, Mendéz and Tut wrote a report for the Guatemalan government which was published by the La Gaceta newspaper. They employed Eusebio Lara to draw their discoveries. In 1853, the report was published in the Berlin Academy of Sciences' Magazine, introducing Tikal to European and American treasure hunters and scientists.

■ GUSTAVE BERNOUILLI: In 1877 Gustave Bernouilli, a botanist from Switzerland, removed several lintels from Temples IV and I during his expedition. They are now on display at the Völker Kunde Museum in Basel, Switzerland (see page 292). Unfortunately, he did this without permission from the Guatemalan government.

■ SIR ALFRED PERCIVAL MAUDSLAY: Maudslay was the first to map and take photos ofTikal (the camera had just been invented during his visit in 1881-82). He was the first to start excavations by removing the 1,000-year-old vegetation from the Grand Plaza. He lived in the Five Story Palace in the Central Acropolis while working on the site. He spread awareness about the Maya civilization, publishing over 87 volumes. Maudslay is considered the father of Maya archeology.

■ TEOBERT MAHLER: Mahler arrived in 1895 to draw a map commissioned by Harvard University's Peabody Museum. He worked on the map until 1904, but never turned it in. Although a respected German scholar, he thought nothing of drawing graffiti on one of the ancient walls where he was living. You can see his artwork in the Mahler Palace, located in the Central Acropolis.

■ ALFRED TOZZER: Tozzer was sent by Harvard to complete Mahler's job in 1910. He took many photos and worked extensively at the ruins until his death in 1954.

■ SYLVANUS GRISWOLD MORLEY: This famous scientist from the Carnegie Institution worked at Tikal from 1914 until 1937. He was instrumental in deciphering many of the Maya hieroglyphics inscribed on monuments. A small museum in the park is named for him and contains many artifacts found during the 1956 dig by the University of Pennsylvania.

The Museo Sylvanus G. Morley, a small museum, is found at the entrance to the ruins. It has an interesting collection of ceramics and artifacts found during various excavations at the ruins. There is an excellent stele of King Stormy Sky and a re-creation of Lord Chocolate's tomb with the original bones, seashells, pearls and ceramics found during the dig in 1957. Other items on display include an incense burner, ceramic platter and a miniature jade carving of a jaguar.

The Stele Museum houses the most important Tikal stelae. Many were suffering from erosion before being placed in the museum. Alongside the carvings is an exhibit showing how the Maya may have erected these huge stones. A second display, Called the Era of Exploration, was done by the Pennsylvania University and outlines all the digs at the ruins.

Nearby is the Visitors Center with a relief map of the ruins. There is also a restaurant, bathroom and gift shop. The center has an excellent map of the park for sale, as well as guidebooks and souvenirs. You can arrange for a guide here too, though guides aren't necessary to enjoy the ruins.

Exploring the Ruins

Complex Q & Complex R

This is the first set of buildings you will find just off the entrance. Complex Q is a twin pyramid complex with some excellent Late Classic sculpture. Stele 22 shows Lord Chi'taam scattering corn and the glyphs give a detailed description of his life. On Altar 10 there is a carving showing a bound prisoner captured by Lord Chi'taam. It's only a short walk from here to the Great Plaza.

The Great Plaza

The Great Plaza is probably the most spectacular part of Tikal, surrounded by stelae, carved altars, ceremonial buildings, palaces and a ball court. It contains the famous twin pyramids, Temples I and II. Both are majestic examples of Late Classical architecture. It is thought that The Great Plaza was the focus of sociopolitical life at Tikal; various causeways connect each of the temples to each other and the Great Plaza.

TEMPLE I: Located at the east end of the Great Plaza facing the setting sun, Grand Jaguar Temple I was built in AD 734 to honor Lord Chocolate. Rising 155 feet, this pyramid contained a vaulted tomb with the remains of Lord Chocolate resting alongside 180 jade artifacts, 90 bones carved with hieroglyphics, shells, stingray spines and other sacred objects. At the top is a temple with three rooms and a corbel arch. In 1877 Gustave Bernouilli removed a carved wooden lintel showing a jaguar from this temple, along with a wooden lintel from Temple IV depicting Lord Chocolate with his son Yiki'in. Both are still on display in Basel, Switzerland's Völkerkunde Museum. Unfortunately, you can no longer climb Temple I -it's been closed for years because several people tumbled to their deaths.

TEMPLE II: Built on the west end of the Great Plaza, Temple II faces the rising sun. It was the first temple to be completed by Lord Chocolate and appears to be a monument to his wife, Lady Twelve Macaw. It stands 122 feet (37 m) tall, shorter than its twin Temple I because of the missing roof-comb. You can still climb this pyramid for some impressive views of the city and surrounding jungle.

TEMPLE III: The Temple of the Jaguar Priest, or Temple III, was constructed in AD 810 and rises to 180 feet (55 m). The lintels here are the most intact of all those found at Tikal. Carved from the hard wood of the sapodilla tree (the same tree that produced sap for Chiclets gum) one lintel depicts a rather portly king dressed in jaguar skins. In front of the temple, resting by a stele with carvings of the water god Chaac, is a stone altar. Archeologists believe it may hold the remains of Lord Chi'taam, Tikal's final ruler. This was quite possibly the last great temple to be erected before its fall.

BAT PALACE: Near Temple III is the Bat Palace, also known as Structure 5C-13. This two-story palace is filled with stepped vaults and interconnecting rooms that have built-in benches and beds. Next door is Complex N, where Altar 5 and Stele 16 were found virtually intact. The originals are now in the visitor's center. The Tozzer causeway leading to Temple IV starts here.

TEMPLE IV: Temple IV, also known as Temple of the Double Headed Serpent, is Tikal's tallest pyramid standing 229 feet high (69 m). It was built in AD 740 by Lord Chocolate's son, Ah Yik'in Chan K'awil, and is considered his most ambitious construction project built to commemo rate his father. The base of the pyramid is quite wide and midway up is an entrance to a small chamber. Archeologists believe Yik'in Chan K'awil is buried here. It's an easy ascent up a steel ladder to the summit. From the top, you can see the tips of Temples I and Temple II.

TEMPLE V: Constructed around AD 750 and rising to 187 feet (57 m), Temple V is the second-largest building in the park. During an excavation by Guatemala's Instituto de Antropolgia e Historiá (IDAEH) a royal tomb was discovered here with the remains of an unknown ruler. A 10-year restoration project recently completed by IDAEH rebuilt the temple stairs, allowing visitors to scale the pyramid.

TEMPLE VI: Temple VI is located south of the Mendéz Causeway and is believed to have been built around AD 766 by Ah Yik'in Chan K'awil with the inscriptions finished during the reign of Lord Chi'taam, Tikal's final ruler. At the base of the temple are Stele 21 and Altar 9, which records Yik'in's ascension to the throne. But the temple's real claim to fame is the rear central panel of the 40-foot roof-comb, which contains one of the longest inscriptions found at Tikal with 186 glyphs each two feet high (.6 m) and three feet (.9 m) wide. Some archeologists believed this to be Yik'in's tomb, rather than Temple V.

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