The Art and Architecture of Ancient America: The Mexican, Maya, and Andean Peoples

By George Kubler | Go to book overview

CHAPTER 10
THE NEIGHBOURS OF THE MAYA

THE GUATEMALAN HIGHLANDS

THE Cordilleran highland of Chiapas, Guatemala, and Salvador is a mountainous land bridge favouring east-west transit. Its volcanoes mark the southern boundaries of Classic Maya civilization. Repeated invasions of these highland valleys and Pacific plains from the Gulf Coast and from the mountains of Mexico occurred in all pre-Columbian periods, with the result that Maya culture was never dominant in the region, even if, from Chiapas to the Río Lempa, different dialects of the Maya language may always have been spoken.1 The record of conquest and colonization from Mexico is apparent in the archaeology and place-names. At least four principal waves can be distinguished: an Olmec penetration of pre-Classic date; a Teotihuacán influence in Early Classic times; a Veracruz infiltration in mid and Late Classic times; and a Mexican highland conquest during the centuries after 1000.

Maya civilization, limited east and west by water, was bounded in the south by these Mexican peoples. The centripetal character of Maya history, with its displacements from the Petén to the river cities, and finally to the plains, may have an explanation in this combination of tribal and geographic limits. Maya stylistic elements, though present in the southern highland, always competed with other traditions in an uneasy coexistence.2

Certain essential Maya traits are recessive in southern highland art: for example, the corbelled vault appears only in a few underground tombs and never in free-standing buildings, where, instead, mortar beam-roofs were the rule. Initial-Series inscriptions are very rare, and monumental relief sculpture appears only sporadically. Large groups of sculpture are known at Izapa, in the Escuintla district, and at Kaminaljuyú. But on the principal sites, which can be roughly dated by relation to the main periods of Mexican and Maya archaeology, non-Maya traits predominate.

One of the older edifices in the region is Mound 3 in Quadrant E III at Kaminaljuyú. E III is a mound group at Finca Miraflores, in a suburb of Guatemala City. Radiocarbon dates from the excavation indicate early construction at E III 3 in the second millennium B.C., continuing until the Early Classic period in the opening centuries of the Christian era.3 It appears that the mound was part of a long, narrow, rectangular plaza bordered by other mounds, all built of puddled and stamped clay (adobe). In the fourth stage of re-modelling, dated about the twelfth century B.C., a sloping-apron moulding, with smoothed clay finish, was built,4 which resembles the profiles of earliest lowland Maya terraces, such as those of E VII sub at Uaxactún.

Subsequent to Group E III at Kaminaljuyú are Mounds A and B, facing east and west across a plaza, at Finca La Esperanza (Figure 74). In Early Classic times both pyramids were repeatedly enlarged, in the style of the principal pyramids of Teotihuacán,

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