Our research in the Holmul region attempts to further our knowledge of ancient Maya society through the study of a city and its surrounding landscape made of natural and cultural features. With a thorough analysis of the history of development of the Holmul center and all other settlements in the Holmul hinterland we hope to understand how scattered villages turned into cities and minor settlements with a variety of functions, political, economic and religious, all well integrated with the natural environment and with one another in a cultural landscape that we define as the Holmul domain

    A strong focus of our research is the study of the emergence of the first foci of centralized power in this region, during the Preclassic era, and how the ideological and political underpinnings of ruling institutions underwent transformations into the Classic era and that ultimately experienced a collapse.

    Holmul is a major Maya city in northeastern Petén, an area of  the Maya Lowland that is still vastly unknown. Until 2000 very little was known about the extent of its  urban area and the relative size of its ceremonial center when compared to other Maya cities, in spite of pioneering work by a Harvard expedition led by R.E  Merwin in 1911 (see history page).  Today it has become apparent that Holmul is one of the longest-lived Maya centers, having been continuously occupied from 800 B.C. to 900  A.D.,  and that a large number of settlements are closely spaced around it with a multiplicity of histories and functions.


    Holmul, as a site and as a region, presents an excellent opportunity to study the emergence of centralized power among the ancient Maya, the relationship between emerging rulers and their constituencies, between urban populations and rural settlements and the nature of the Maya cultural landscape, as well as their abrupt demise in the 9th century A.D. As archaeologists, we approach these problems by examining the material correlates of human behavior such as the structured use of artifacts, secular and  sacred built spaces, landscapes, as well as in the history recorded in hieroglyphic inscriptions. The results of our surveys and excavations at Holmul at a number of sites surrounding it promise to fill the most substantial gaps in our knowledge of Maya history, those relating to the earliest and latest manifestations of Maya  society.

Our analysis is multi-disciplinary in nature combining environmental studies aided by Remote Sensing, GIS, and Geological surveys, archaeological  mapping, ceramic, lithic, botanical, faunal and osteological analysis, with architectural, iconographic and epigraphic analysis.


Summary of current research topics

Since the Holmul Archaeological Project began by exploring the site after 90 years of neglect several lines of evidence with significant implications on Maya  studies have materialized.

1) Holmul was a sprawling sub-urban city with massive plazas and ceremonial architecture in Classic period with a peak in occupation in the Late/Terminal  Classic era (ca. A.D. 700-900). More than 24 plain stela monuments found at the site date to this period.  Several coeval ceremonial centers were directly  related to Holmul by distance (less than 5km) forming peripheral nodes of elite residence, administration and ceremonial activity in a well integrated system  centered at Holmul which represents the "Late/Terminal Classic Holmul kingdom".

  3d map of Holmul settlement                                                                                                     Holmul center  

2) Some centers in the Holmul vicinity (less than 7 km) experienced a peak in occupation and ceremonial construction before Holmul in the Preclassic (Cival and Caracol) and in the Early Classic (La Sufricaya) and the possibility exists for a series of shifting capitals through time in these region. A theory that if proven correct, could lead to interesting implications on the nature of Maya dynastic politics.

Stucco mask  at Cival

3) Mural paintings, complex architecture, carved inscriptions on stela monuments at a site in the vicinity of Holmul, La Sufricaya, suggest a foreign presence at the site, from Teotihuacan, or minimally Tikal.  The in-depth study of these data could lead to conclusive evidence to revolutionize the accepted consensus on the relationship between the Maya and Teotihucan civilizations in the Classic era (especially the A.D. 300-550 period).

   detail of Mural 1 (La Sufricaya)                                                               detail of Mask 1 (La Sufricaya

4) While Holmul is one of the latest Maya cities to be abandoned, at least two sites (Cival and Holmul) have produced preliminary evidence of defensive walls encircling most of the ceremonial plazas and elite palaces.  There is a strong suggestion of a final siege during the latest period of occupation, and this evidence may have great implications on our understanding of the Maya collapse (ca. A.D. 900) in the Southern Maya Lowlands.