If you are reading this, chances are that at one point or another you have dreamed of the “romantic life” of an archaeologist.
But if you have any experience at all, or have actually talked to an archaeologist, you will surely know that archaeology is nothing like Indiana Jones movies or Tomb Raider video games would have you believe.
Being an archaeologist in Mexico (and many other countries) involves long seasons sleeping in makeshift huts with swarms of mosquitoes, grueling hours in the lab, and maybe worst of all — writing grant applications.
But for us amateurs, there is still a great allure to the profession, especially when we get the opportunity to see them at work — especially if they seem to be making exciting discoveries.
Back in 2009, while driving through Tabasco on a business trip, I spotted a suspicious mound in the distance and decided to make a detour to investigate.
It was easy to tell that this was not a natural formation. Perhaps it was a pile of rubble left by a construction crew, I thought to myself, trying to not get too excited.
Once I got closer, my suspicions were confirmed. This was no ordinary mound, it was an ancient Maya pyramid.
As I got even closer I could see a great deal of commotion — dozens of workers, archaeologists, and vehicles — all working together to help reveal this ancient treasure from at least a millennia of abandonment.
The structure, which would come to be known as “the double pyramid” of Moral Reforma, was extremely impressive, even back then when only its base had been excavated.
Standing at nearly 30 meters tall, or 100 feet, the structure is now known to resemble more of a large artificial platform, featuring two pyramidal structures, each with its own staircase standing side by side.
As I explored the area, I was informed by an archaeologist that they had documented at least 30 structures at the site, but that it was likely that many more had been disassembled over the centuries by farmers. The surrounding area was all being used as pasture for cattle.
Aside from the double pyramid, several other structures quickly caught my eye, including an already reconstructed Mesoamerican ballcourt.
As it turns out, the ancient city we now know as Moral de Reforma had early on in its history been a domain of the great city of Calakmul but fell under the control of Palenque in the 7th century CE.
The original name of this ancient city has been lost to time. Its insignia has apparently been identified on stelae found at the site, which has turned out to be illegible. The name Moral de Reforma was assigned to the site by Teobert Maler, who first documented the ancient city in the early 20th century.
The architecture of the site shares features with both the Río Bec and Peten artistic styles.
Another noteworthy architectural complex at Moral de Reforma is Group 1, which features two more side-by-side pyramidal structures designated Estructura 1 and Estructura 2.
Several ceremonial platforms can also be seen at the site, though only a few of them have been restored.
During my visit to the site, it was still possible to observe several stelae still face down in the ground, which have since been restored to something resembling their past glory.
The most significant of these stelae, Estela 1, was moved to a museum in Tabasco’s state capital, Villahermosa.
If you go
Moral de Reforma is about 70 miles / 113 kilometers northeast of Palenque in the Municipality of Balancán in the state of Tabasco. It is also near the San Pedro Mártir River, a tributary of the Usumacinta.
Getting to the site is not exactly easy. Much of the way runs through farmland with less than ideal roads. As far as I am aware there are no tours available to Moral de Reforma, so you will have to bring your own transportation or hire a private guide.
Being in proximity to the Trinfuo ecological reserve, birdlife in the region is quite abundant. Make sure to keep your eyes open for interesting specimens.
The entrance fee to Moral de Reforma is free and accessible from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m., Monday through Saturday.