Q Marks the Spot: Recent find fingers long-sought Maya city

Scientists working at a Guatemalan archaeological site that’s more than 1,400 years old have reported finding a hieroglyphic-covered stone panel that, they say, conclusively identifies the ancient settlement as the enigmatic Site Q, a Maya city about which researchers have long speculated.

SITE FINDER. Hieroglyphics carved into this stone panel, found last April, indicate that an ancient Maya settlement in Guatemala was Site Q, the source of certain ancient artifacts. The panel also depicts two lords facing each other as they perform a ceremony. Yale Univ.

Yale University archaeologist Marcello Canuto found the well-preserved panel last April at a site called La Corona.

“[The] writing on the panel opens up a new chapter in Maya history,” says anthropologist David Freidel of Southern Methodist University in Dallas, codirector of the expedition. “This new panel provides the critical test for establishing that

La Corona is Site Q.”

Conjectures about Site Q began about 40 years ago, when carved panels and other glyph-bearing artifacts of apparently Maya origin flooded the antiquities market. Peter Mathews of La Trobe University in Melbourne, Australia, examined these looted items in private and museum collections and noted that they referred to the Maya city of Calakmul, in what’s now southern Mexico, but displayed a style unlike that of Calakmul artifacts. Mathews concluded that the pieces probably came from another site, unknown to scientists, in the Guatemalan lowlands. He dubbed it Site Q, a hypothesized city under the control of Calakmul.

After a 1996 visit to La Corona, Ian Graham of Harvard University and David Stuart of the University of Texas at Austin told their colleagues that writing on stone monuments at the site suggested it as Site Q.

This past April, on the Freidel expedition’s last day of mapping and exploration at La Corona, Canuto spied a carved panel wedged into the ground inside a trench that had been dug by a looter. The stone bears more than 140 hieroglyphics.

The writing on the stone covers a period from A.D. 658 to A.D. 677 and refers to two kings previously associated with Site Q. The inscriptions are carved in a style identical to that of a panel previously sold by looters that mentions the same rulers, Freidel says.

The text records one king’s journey to Calakmul, possibly for assistance when a nearby, more powerful Maya king threatened to conquer La Corona. It also describes a ceremony in which the La Corona ruler reestablished his kingship.

A fresh battle is brewing over whether the new panel for the first time conclusively identifies La Corona as Site Q. Earlier evidence had already done that, Stuart contends. For instance, at a 2001 archaeological meeting, he reported that rock from the same quarry was used at La Corona and in Site Q artifacts.

“The new panel is a really nice find, but it doesn’t change our knowledge about the location of Site Q,” Stuart says. Further excavations need to confirm that Site Q artifacts come only from La Corona and not from nearby Maya sites as well, he adds.

The new panel’s detailed historical account “adds proof” to the proposed link between La Corona and Site Q, remarks Federico Fahsen, a Maya-writing specialist based in Guatemala City.

Bruce Bower

Bruce Bower has written about the behavioral sciences for Science News since 1984. He writes about psychology, anthropology, archaeology and mental health issues.

More Stories from Science News on Archaeology

From the Nature Index

Paid Content