Calakmul Archaeological Site: Calakmul Biosphere Reserve (Mexico)

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Calakmul Archaeological Site: Calakmul Biosphere Reserve (Mexico)

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The Calakmul archaeological site in Campeche, Mexico, is both a World Heritage site and a Biosphere Reserve. The largest forest mass in Mexico and the second largest remnant forest left in Latin America is the heartland of the area where the Maya civilization reached its climax.


Calakmul (or Kalakmul) is a Maya archaeological site in the Mexican state of Campeche. Lying deep in the jungles of the greater Petén Basin region, it is 35 km (22 mi) from the Guatemalan border. Calakmul was among the largest and most powerful ancient cities ever uncovered in the Maya lowlands.

The archaeological site is also a World Heritage site and Biosphere Reserve. The largest forest mass in Mexico and the second largest remnant forest left in Latin America is the heartland of the area where the Maya civilization reached its climax.

The UNESCO World Heritage Site: "Ancient Maya City and Protected Tropical Forests of Calakmul, Campeche" is located in the Yucatán Peninsula in southern Mexico. The total area of the property is 331,397 ha (819,000 acres), surrounded by a buffer zone of 391,788 ha (968,000 acres).

The Calakmul archaeological site is located within the Mesoamerican biodiversity hotspot, the third-largest in the world, encompassing all subtropical and tropical ecosystems from central Mexico to the Panama Canal.

Today the site is almost uninhabited and covered by a tropical forest called the Maya Forest. This is the heartland of the area in which, from the mid-first millennium B.C. to about A.D. 1000, the Maya civilization reached its climax, but where it also suffered the most dramatic downfall, resulting in the almost complete abandonment of formerly flourishing settlements.

Since the area has remained virtually depopulated, it represents an exceptional testimony to a long-living civilization, offering possibilities for archaeological and ecological research and presentation of its results.

The site is at the core of America's second-largest expanse of tropical forests, only surpassed by the Amazon Rainforest in South America.

Apart from Calakmul, the most significant archaeological site, where the Kaan had its seat during the Late Classic period – remains of dozens of other ancient settlements have been found in the area, including several major urban centers with substantial architectural complexes and sculpted monuments.

Along with settlement remains, the inter-and intra-site roads (sacbés), defensive systems, quarries, water management features (such as reservoirs and artificially modified aguadas or water ponds), agricultural terraces and other land modifications related to production systems and subsistence strategies are also constituent parts of the vibrant and exceptionally well preserved ancient cultural landscape.

Excavations at Calakmul and Uxul have revealed stucco friezes and mural paintings in some of the massive temple pyramids and palaces, as well as burials of kings and other members of the nobility, containing a wide variety of body ornaments and other accompanying objects, including elaborate jade masks, ear spools, and polychrome pottery vessels.

The hieroglyphic inscriptions on stelae, altars, and building elements reveal important facts about the territorial organization and political history, and some epigraphic records provide information that has not been found anywhere else in the Maya Area.

The inscriptional evidence, the characteristics of architecture and urban layouts, pottery styles, tool kits, and funerary objects – information collected at several sites surveyed in the area, as well as through excavations at some of them – indicate the existence of extensive trade networks and exchange of ideas with the neighboring regions, but they also reflect local developments.

It is also an area with a great abundance of wildlife. In addition, the Ancient Maya City and Protected Tropical Forests of Calakmul, Campeche, host rich biodiversity. The Mayans appreciated this biodiversity and represented it in their paintings, pottery, sculptures, rituals, food, and arts.

Several of the species are considered threatened and in danger. The property has the greatest diversity of mammals in the Mayan region. It is home to two of the three species of primates, two of the four edentates and five of the six wildcat species (felines) in Mexico.

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Calakmul Biosphere Reserve

The Calakmul Biosphere Reserve, located at the base of the Yucatán Peninsula and within the Petén Basin and Maya Forest, is the largest forest reserve in Mexico. It comprises 723,185 ha (1,787,000 acres) of protected land with some 52 ejidos, or local communities, with almost 23,740 inhabitants (2000) in its buffer zone.

The area of the Biosphere Reserve equals the entire area that also makes up the World Heritage Site: Ancient Maya City and Protected Tropical Forests of Calakmul, Campeche.

It is not an untouched forest, as testify the remnants of Mayan cities abandoned in A.D. 900. The important pre-Columbian Maya civilization archaeological site of Calakmul, one of the largest-known Maya sites, is located in the Biosphere Reserve.

It consists of Tropical humid forest ecosystem types covered with Evergreen tropical moist forest, semi-deciduous forest with low temporally flooded forest, thorn forest and tropical deciduous forest.

The Biosphere Reserve is characterized by its size, good state of conservation, and continuity with other regions in the Yucatán Peninsula, Chiapas, Guatemala, and Belize. It is considered the largest tropical forest mass in Mexico and, together with the forests of Guatemala and Belize, the second-largest remnant forest left in Latin America after the Amazon.

Its great diversity of species responds to regional heterogeneity, where despite its scant landforms, high and medium altitude sub-evergreen (moist) forests, medium-altitude sub-deciduous (dry) forests (with a predominance of Holywood Lignum-vitae (Guaiacum sanctum)); lowland deciduous forests and savannas can be found.

Flora and Fauna

This group of forests harbors Mexico's largest populations of fauna and flora, comprising charismatic or flagship species of biological and ecological importance for the region, such as the Jaguar, the Puma, the Tapir, the White-lipped Peccary, the Howler Monkey and the Spider Monkey, the King Vulture, the Ornate Hawk together with Mahogany, Cedar and Ciricote trees.

There are also endemic species of economic and ecological importance for the region, such as Ocellated Turkey (Meleagris ocellata) and Gray Brocket Deer (Mazama gouazoubira).

Ninety percent of the amphibian species and over 50% of the reptile species reported for the Peninsula are to be found in the region. In addition, the land area is vital for birds, with over 360 species recorded and is also considered a significant geographical area for Neotropical migratory species.

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