Tikal is one of the pre-Columbian Maya civilization's most significant archaeological sites and urban centers. Located in the Petén Basin of northern Guatemala, surrounded by the lush Maya Forest, the site is part of Guatemala's Tikal National Park, a UNESCO World Heritage Site.
Tikal: Archaeological Site
Tikal is one of the largest archaeological sites and urban centers of the pre-Columbian Maya civilization. Located in the Petén Basin of northern Guatemala, the site is part of Guatemala's Tikal National Park which was declared a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 1979.
Tikal was the capital of one of the most powerful kingdoms of the ancient Maya. Though monumental architecture at the site dates back as far as the 4th century BC, Tikal reached its apogee during the Classic Period, c. 200 to 900.
During this time, the city dominated much of the Maya region politically, economically, and militarily, while interacting with areas throughout Mesoamerica such as the great metropolis of Teotihuacan in the distant Valley of Mexico.
There is evidence that Tikal was conquered by Teotihuacan in the 4th century AD. Following the end of the Late Classic Period, no new major monuments were built at Tikal and there is evidence that elite palaces were burned. These events were coupled with a gradual population decline, culminating with the site's abandonment by the end of the 10th century.
Tikal is the best understood of any of the large lowland Maya cities, with a long dynastic ruler list, the discovery of the tombs of many of the rulers on this list and the investigation of their monuments, temples, and palaces.
Tikal National Park
Tikal National Park is located in northern Guatemala's Petén Province, within a large forest region often called the Maya Forest, extending into neighboring Mexico and Belize.
Embedded within the much larger Maya Biosphere Reserve, exceeding 2,000,000 ha (5,000,000 acres) and contiguous with additional conservation areas, Tikal National Park is one of the few World Heritage properties inscribed according to both natural and cultural criteria for its extraordinary biodiversity and archaeological importance.
Tikal National Park comprises 57,600 ha (142,330 acres) of wetlands, savanna, tropical broadleaf, and palm forests with thousands of architectural and artistic remains of the Mayan civilization from the Preclassic Period (600 B.C.) to the decline and eventual collapse of the urban center around 900 AD.
The diverse ecosystems and habitats harbor a wide spectrum of neotropical fauna and flora. Five cats, including Jaguar and Puma, several species of monkeys and anteaters and more than 300 species of birds are among the notable wildlife.
The forests comprise more than 200 tree species and over 2000 higher plants have been recorded across the diverse habitats.
Tikal, a major pre-Columbian political, economic and military center, is one of the most important archaeological complexes left by the Maya civilization.
An inner urban zone of around 400 ha (988 acres) contains the principal monumental architecture and monuments which include palaces, temples, ceremonial platforms, small and medium sized residences, ball-game courts, terraces, roads, large and small squares.
Many of the existing monuments preserve decorated surfaces, including stone carvings and mural paintings with hieroglyphic inscriptions, which illustrate the dynastic history of the city and its relationships with urban centers as far away as Teotihuacán and Calakmul in Mexico, Copán in Honduras, or Caracol in Belize.
A wider zone of key archaeological importance, around 1,200 ha (3,000 acres), covers residential areas and historic water reservoirs, today known as "aguadas."
The extensive peripheral zone features more than 25 associated secondary sites, historically serving protective purposes and as check-points for trade routes. The peripheral areas also played a major role for agricultural production for the densely populated center.
Research has revealed numerous constructions, carved monuments and other evidence bearing witness to highly sophisticated technical, intellectual and artistic achievements that developed from the arrival of the first settlers (800 B.C.) to the last stages of historic occupation around the year 900.
Tikal has enhanced our understanding not only of an extraordinary bygone civilization but also of cultural evolution more broadly.
The diversity and quality of architectonical and sculptural ensembles serving ceremonial, administrative and residential functions are exemplified in a number of exceptional places, such as the Great Plaza, the Lost World Complex, the Twin Pyramid Complexes, as well as in ball courts and irrigation structures.