Mayan Archaeology

Although Mayan civilisation came to an end after the Spanish conquered Mesoamerica, the remains and architecture of many Mayan cities exist to this day. These include the ruins of Mayan cities not only from Post-Classic era but also from Classic and Pre-Classic eras, including the extant remains of some fairly ancient Mayan cities. Although many of these cities were abandoned and forgotten in the wake of the Spanish conquest of Mesoamerica, they were rediscovered over time. Researches and archaeological excavations undertaken in the last century have critically helped the modern scholarship in forming an understanding of Mayan civilisation.

El Mirador Ruins

Among the oldest sites of Mayan archaeology are the ruins of the El Mirador city. According to modern archaeological estimates, the city became a major Mayan centre sometime around 6th century B.C. It was one of the largest pre-Classic cities in the world, having a population from 100,000 to 250,000 people. A number of monumental structures built in the heyday of El Mirador are still extant and can be seen at the site of its ruins. These include the La Danta temple which is one of the largest pyramids in the world. Three major structural complexes exist at the site of El Mirador containing nearly 35 major structures.


The ruins of the Mayan city of Tikal are one of the most treasured sites of Mayan archaeology.

Tikal Ruins

The ruins of the Mayan city of Tikal are one of the most treasured sites of Mayan archaeology. Evidence at the site of these ruins suggests that it hosted a population as early as 1000 B.C. The city had a number of monumental structures dating back to sometime between 300 and 400 B.C., which was the time when Tikal reached its peak. Among the extant structures at the site of Tikal ruins are the Great Plaza, Central Acropolis, North Acropolis, South Acropolis and a huge number of other buildings dating back to the Pre-Classic era. A number of causeways built by the Mayans also exist in the city to this day.

Uxmal Ruins

Uxmal was a major Mayan city which reached the peak of its power and prominence around 850 to 950 A.D. A large number of excellently preserved monumental structures dated back to the aforementioned dates have been discovered at the archaeological remains of Uxmal. Among these extant structures is the Governor’s Palace at Uxmal which is a unique building with a large number of external stelas. Other extant structures include a building called the Pyramid of the Magicians and a huge Ballcourt.

Tulum Ruins

Tulum was one of the last cities built and inhabited by the Mayans. The city reached its height in the period between 13th and 15th centuries A.D. and was a walled city by the sea shore. The city hosted many impressive buildings and many of these still exist as part of the Tulum city ruins. Among the most notable remains of the Tulum city is the Pyramid El Castillo and the God of Winds Temple which is located right by the sea. Another significant building at the site of the city’s ruins is the Great Palace, a structure which was originally built for the city’s royalty.

Mayapan Ruins

Mayapan was a major Mayan powerhouse from 13th to 15th centuries. Although the city didn’t have a very large population, Mayans built a huge number of structures within its walls which manifested its affluence and wealth in the days of its power. The ruins of Mayapan are critically important in any studies of Mayan archaeology. In total, 4000 structures have been discovered within the limits of the city and a number of other structures located outside it. Among the important extant structures is the Temple of Kukulcan.

Copan Ruins

Copan was the centre of a major Mayan kingdom which reached its peak from the 5th to 9th centuries. Archaeological excavations at the site of Copan have revealed many structures. Notable among these are the two main plazas of the city which have many layers of construction. One of the most remarkable extant buildings at Copan ruins is the Temple of Rosalila which is very well preserved and still has its stucco exterior and other structural embellishments. The site contains many other temples and a huge ballcourt.

Chichen Itza Ruins

The ruins of the Mayan city of Chichen Itza are probably the most iconic and recognisable globally. The city was the most important Mayan city from 600 to sometime around 900 A.D. Most of its monumental structures are extant and these include many marvellous feats of architecture. The El Castillo pyramid situated in the centre of the city’s ruins, for instance, is an excellent building which is constructed with an eye to astronomical phenomenon such as equinoxes. The Temple of a Thousand Warriors is a similarly grand building which has a group of thousand columns right in front of it. Chichen Itza also had one of the largest ballcourts of any Mayan city which is extant today among its ruins. Other notable structures of archaeological relevance include the Skull Platform, the Osario pyramid, the government building of La Iglesia and the El Caracol observatory.

Coba Ruins

Coba was one of the oldest Mayan cities which rose to prominence during the Classic period. The site of the Coba’s ruins is home to many important Mayan structures. The most notable of the extant structures at Coba is the Ixmoja pyramid which rises to a height of 138 feet. The ruins also include two sizable ballcourts. The ruins of Coba contribute significantly in the archaeological understanding of the Mayan Classic era.

Mayan Archaeology Summary

Mayan archaeology refers to the remains and ruins of the Mayan cities. The remains of a huge number of Mayan cities scattered all over the Mayan regions are extant today. These have helped archaeologists and researchers in their understanding of the Mayan civilisation. The excavations done at the site of many of these cities have helped the researchers understand the evolution of the Mayan civilisation from its advent in the Pre-Classic period through the Classic Period and into the Post-Classic period all the way up to the Spanish conquest. Notable sites of Mayan ruins include the site of Chichen Itza, Copan, Calakmul, Mayapan, Uxmal, El Mirador and Tikal.