Artificial plateau construction during the Preclassic period at the Maya site of Ceibal, Guatemala

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Abstract

Investigations at the Maya site of Ceibal, Guatemala, documented an artificial plateau, measuring 600 x 340 m in horizontal dimensions and 6 to 15 m in height. Unlike highly visible pyramids, such horizontally extensive constructions covered by the rainforest are difficult to recognize on the ground, but airborne laser scanning (LiDAR) revealed its planned form. Excavations carried out over many years provided data on its construction sequence, fill volumes, and labor investments. The initial construction of the plateau occurred around 950 B. C. when a formal ceremonial complex was built in its center. This was the period when the inhabitants of the Maya lowlands were adopting a new way of life with greater reliance on maize agriculture, full sedentism, and ceramic use. The inhabitants of areas surrounding Ceibal, who retained certain levels of residential mobility, probably participated in the construction of the plateau. In this regard, the Ceibal plateau is comparable to monumental constructions that emerged before or during the transition to agriculture or sedentism in other parts of the world. The data from Ceibal compel researchers to examine the social implications of monumental constructions in the Maya lowlands before the establishment of centralized polities with hereditary rulers. Unlike pyramids, where access to the summits may have been limited to privileged individuals, the horizontal monumentality of the plateau was probably more conducive to inclusive interaction. The Ceibal plateau continued to be built up during the Preclassic period (1000 B.C.-A.D. 175), and its fill volume substantially surpassed those of pyramids. Large-scale construction projects likely promoted organizational and managerial innovations among participants, which may have set the stage for later administrative centralization.

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Inomata, T., Triadan, D., Pinzón, F., & Aoyama, K. (2019). Artificial plateau construction during the Preclassic period at the Maya site of Ceibal, Guatemala. PLoS ONE, 14(8). https://doi.org/10.1371/journal.pone.0221943

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