The Holmul Archaeological Project began in 2000 under the direction of PI Dr. Francisco Estrada Belli as a Boston University expedition. It was later supported by Vanderbilt University until 2008 and it is now backed by Boston University and (since 2012)Tulane University.   Interest in Holmul was motivated by the well-known results of R.E. Merwin's excavations at the site in his pioneering season of 1911 (Merwin and Vaillant 1932). Aside from being the first scientific excavation of a Maya ruin in the history of Maya archaeology, Merwin’s work is well know for having produced the first ceramic sequence in the Maya Lowland which has served as a reference for research ever since. The 1911 research clearly showed elaborate architecture and burial data of relatively early date (Early Classic), while at the same time bringing to light more complex palaces, temples and burials of the Late Classic Period which are among the most spectacular in the Maya Lowlands. 

      The 1911 excavations demonstrated the existence of relatively unobstructed early architecture at the site in spite of the Late Classic surge in construction.  Also, the existence of a long and uninterrupted cultural sequence was considered of outmost importance for future research.  Regrettably, the 1911 mission did not produce a site map or explorations outside of the main plazas and the actual extent and complexity of Holmul as a center of ritual, political and residential activities remained virtually unknown. A surprising lack of carved monuments at Holmul and the site’s difficult location in northeastern Petén likely resulted in its being bypassed by researchers for the following 89 years.  Nevertheless, the site was affected by several waves of looting first during the 1970s then during the late 1990 as it remained unguarded.

        The first priority of the Holmul archaeological Project since its inception in 2000 was the protection of the site and the recovery of data on the extent of architectural complexity at Holmul and in its hinterland.  A mapping program was initiated with several methods of intensive survey. A 1 km2 “tile” was to be mapped in the site center while four 250m wide transects were to be surveyed meter-by-meter out to a distance of 5 km.  In addition, further outlying areas were to be explored using GPS navigation aided by land use maps and predictive models generated by GIS and satellite image analysis.   Using this strategy, most of the site center has been mapped and several large ceremonial centers have been discovered at an average distance of 4.5 km from Holmul center.

Further data was collected through test excavations in plaza floors and by rescuing stratigraphic profiles from looters trenches.  A comprehensive dataset was created for a first re-assessment of the site’s ceramic sequence and its occupational history (Kosakowsky 2001).  In addition to revealing buried architecture and burials, these explorations led to the discovery of several important epigraphic monuments and looted structures with intact iconographic decorations.  Among these important discoveries is the Preclassic monumental sculpture at Cival, an additional “Protoclassic” burial at Holmul and two sets of Early Classic mural paintings at La Sufricaya which have been the focus of further research and conservation in recent years (Estrada-Belli 2001, Estrada-Belli et al. 2002, Estrada-Belli 2003, Estrada-Belli et al. 2003).  The current data suggest that Holmul was a large city in the Late Classic period with settlement extending in a 3km radius in every direction and with peripheral large center located in a ring around it at a 5km distance.  The evidence also shows that Holmul may have been but the latest of a series of primary centers in this region, the earliest of which may have been Cival, followed by La Sufricaya.  Such repeated shifts in the location of centers of power in a relatively small region (a 6km radius of Holmul) has profound implications for our understanding of the volatile political milieu of emerging Maya polities, with increased competition, warfare and complex rituals of succession to power.

A number of sub-projects have developed within the Holmul Project that focus with specific areas of investigation under the direction of the PI and which form the basis for dissertations at Vanderbilt University, UC Riverside, Yale, Tulane and Harvard U.  Among these are topical research at Cival, K'o, and La Sufricaya.  Currently, new interest is being directed to the sites of Holmul, Hamontun and Hahakab, because of their early architectural complexity. In addition, the documentation and conservation of murals, monumental sculpture and associated architecture has been the focus of an important efforts with the help of US, Italian and Guatemalan conservators. 


Nina Neivens de Estrada

A tangled web: ceramic adoption in the Maya lowlands and community interaction in the early Middle Preclassic as seen in the K'awiil complex from Holmul, Peten, Guatemala. In The Maya and Their Central American Neighbors. Settlement Patterns, architecture, Hieroglyphic Texts, and Ceramics. Braswell, Geoffrey E. (ed.). pp. 177-200, Routledge, New York. (2014)

Wahl, David, Francisco Estrada-Belli and Lysanna Anderson

A 3400 year paleolimnological record of prehispanic human-environment interactions in the Holmul region of the southern Maya Lowlands. Palaeogeography, Palaeoclimatology, Palaeoecology 379-380(2013):17-31

M. Callaghan, F. Estrada-Belli and N. Neivens

Technological Style and Terminal Preclassic Orange Ceramics in the Holmul Region, Guatemala. In. Ancient Maya Pottery. Classification, Analysis and Interpretation J, Aimers (ed. ), pp. 121-141. University of Florida Press. (2013)

Tokovinine, A.
Place and identity in classic Maya narratives. Washington, D.C. Dumbarton Oaks Research Library and Collection, Washington, D.C. (2013)

Callaghan, Michael G.
Politics Through Pottery: A View of the Preclassic-Classic Transition from Building B, Group II, Holmul, Guatemala. Ancient Mesoamerica, 24 (2013), 307–341

Than, K.

Giant Maya Carvings Found in Guatemala. National Geographic Society, Washington, D.C. (2012)

Estrada-Belli, Francisco

Early civilization in the Maya Lowlands, Monumentality and Place Making. A view from the Holmul region. In Origins of New World Monumentality. Richard Burger and Robert Rosenswig (eds.) University of Florida Press. (2012)

Estrada-Belli, Francisco, A. Tokovinine, J. M. Foley, H. Hurst, G. A. Ware, D. Stuart, and N. Grube

Pintura mural e historia en La Sufricaya y las relaciones Teotihuacanas en las Tierras Bajas Maya. In Texto, Imagen e identidad, M. Paxton, M. Herman (eds.) Centro de Estudios Maya. UNAM, Mexico. (F. Estrada-Belli, A. Tokovinine, J. M. Foley, H. Hurst, G. A. Ware, D. Stuart, and N. Grube)

Estrada-Belli, Francisco

The First Maya Civilization. Ritual and Power in the Maya Lowlands before the Classic period. (2011) Routledge, London.
Available in the US and Latin America at

UK, Europe and the rest of the world at Routledge online with 20% off using this flyer.

Lightning Sky, Rain Gods and Maize: the Ideology of Preclassic Maya Rulers at Cival, Guatemala. (2006) Ancient Mesoamerica 17(1): 57-78.

Estrada-Belli, Francisco, Alexandre Tokovinine, Jennifer Foley, Hurst Heather, Gene Ware, David Stuart and Nikolai Grube
2009 A Maya Palace at Holmul, Peten, Guatemala and the Teotihuacan 'Entrada': Evidence from Murals 7 and 9. (2009) Latin American Antiquity 20(1):228-259.
Estrada-Belli,F. A. Tokovinine, J. Foley, H. Hurst, G. A. Ware, D. Stuart, N. Grube
Two Early Classic Maya murals: new texts and images in Maya and Teotihuacan style from La Sufricaya, Petén, Guatemala. Antiquity Vol. 80 No. 308(June 2006) URL:

Bauer, J.  
2005. El Pasado Preclásico y Monumental de Holmul: Resultados de las Temporadas de Excavación 2003 y 2004 en Cival, Petén. In XVIII Simposio de Investigaciones de Arqueologia en Guatemala, J.P Laporte, Barbara Arroyo, Hector Escobedo and Hector Mejia (eds.). Ministerio de Cultura y Deporte Guatemala.

Estrada-Belli, F.
2000. Archaeological Investigations at Holmul, Guatemala. Report of the first field season, May-June 2000.  Report submitted to National Geographic Society and FAMSI. Online version, URL:
2001. Maya Kingship at Holmul, Guatemala.  Antiquity 75(2001): 685-6.
2001b. Archaeological Investigations at Holmul, Guatemala. Preliminary report of the 2001 season. Report submitted to National Geographic Society.
2002a. Anatomía de una ciudad Maya: Holmul. Resultados de Investigaciones arqueológicas en 2000 y 2001. Mexicon XXIV(5): 107-112.
2002b. Archaeological Investigations at Holmul, Petén. Preliminary report of the 2002 season.

2003. Archaeological Investigations at Holmul, Petén. Post Season interim report of the 2003 season.

2005 Cival, La Sufricaya and Holmul: The long history of Maya political power and settlement in the Holmul region.  Archaeology in the Eastern Maya Lowlands: Papers of the The 2003 Belize Archaeology Symposium. J. Awe, J. Morriz, and S. Jones (eds).  Institute of Archaeology, Belmopan, Belize.

Estrada-Belli, F. J. Bauer, M.Morgan, and A. Chavez
2003. Symbols of early Maya kingship at Cival, Petén Guatemala. Antiquity 77(298) (December 2003).

Estrada-Belli, F. and Jennifer Foley

2004. Arqueología e historia de enlaces geo-políticos: El Clásico Temprano en La Sufricaya.  In XVII Simposio de Investigaciones Arqueológicas de Guatemala J.P. Laporte, H. Escobedo y Barbara Arroyo (eds.) pp. 863-870. Museo Nacional de Arqueología y Etnología, Guatemala

Estrada-Belli, F., N. Grube,  M. Wolf, K. Gardella, and C. Guerra-Librero

2003a. Preclassic Maya monuments and temples at Cival, Petén, Guatemala. Antiquity 77 (296) URL

Estrada-Belli, F., Nikolai Grube, Marc Wolf, Kristen Gardella, Claudio Lozano Guerra-Librero and Raul Archila)
2003b New from the Holmul hinterland: Maya monuments and temples at Cival, Petén, Guatemala.  Mexicon 25(2):59-61

Estrada-Belli, F., J. Bauer, M. Morgan, and A. Chavez
2003c. (in press) Early Maya symbols of kingship at Cival, Peten. Antiquity 77 (Dec. 2003).

Estrada-Belli, F., J. Valle, C. Hewitson, M. Wolf, J. Bauer, M. Morgan, J. C. Perez, J. Doyle, E. Barrios, A. Chavez and N. Neivens
2004. Teledetección, patrón de asentamiento e historia en Holmul, Petén. In XVII Simposio de Investigaciones Arqueológicas de Guatemala J.P. Laporte, H. Escobedo y Barbara Arroyo (eds.) pp. 73-84. Museo Nacional de Arqueología y Etnología, Guatemala.

Foley J. M.

2005 En busca de la Población Clasico Temprano en La Sufricaya: Excavaciones de 2004. In  XVIII Simposio de Investigaciones de Arqueologia en Guatemala, J.P Laporte, Barbara Arroyo, Hector Escobedo and Hector Mejia (eds.). Ministerio de Cultura y Deporte Guatemala.

Grube, N.
2003. Monumentos jeroglíficos de Holmul, Peten, Guatemala. In XVI Simposio de Investigaciones de Arqueología de Guatemala. J.P. Laporte, B. Arroyo, H. Escobedo, H. Mejía (eds). pp. 701-710. Museo Nacional de Arqueología y Etnología, Guatemala.

Kosakowsky, L. J.
2001. The ceramic sequence from Holmul, Guatemala. Preliminary results from the year 2000 season. Mexicon XXIII (4):85-91