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With new technology, archaeologists uncover the shocking size of Calakmul

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Carlos Rosado van der Gracht
Carlos Rosado van der Gracht
Born in Mérida, Carlos Rosado van der Gracht is a Mexican/Canadian blogger, photographer and adventure expedition leader. He holds degrees in multimedia, philosophy and translation from universities in Mexico, Canada and Norway. Sign up for the Yucatán Roundup, a free newsletter, which delivers the week's top headlines every Monday.
Calakmul was a true superpower of the Mayan world and its conflict with Tikal and its allies (known as the Star Wars) has become the stuff of legend. Photo: Courtesy

Calakmul has long been known to be one of the largest Maya settlements of the ancient world.

But recent surveys by archaeologists from the UNAM, University of Houston, and the Canadian fund for the arts and sciences have uncovered that the ruins of this ancient city are in fact even larger than previously thought. 

Using a technology known as LIDAR capable of seeing through thick jungle canopies and other materials, the scientists now claim Calakmul was over three times larger than previously thought.

“Surveys by the University of Campeche showed that Calakmul’s urban area extended roughly 18.5 square miles. But now with the use of this technology, we can tell the real extension is closer to 65 square miles. It’s simply stunning,” said archaeologist Felix Kupprat.

What is even more incredible is that when surveying the Calakmul, archaeologists discovered a separate settlement they have named Yaxnohcah of similar dimensions. 

“We are looking here at what seems to be the densest area of construction in the Maya world and perhaps Mesoamerica as a whole,” said Kupprat. 

Earlier: Cuicuilco — forged in stone and destroyed by lava

There has not been any mention of intentions to excavate these newly discovered sections of Calakmul or Yaxnohcah, though if history is any guide major excavations could be expected to begin in earnest in the next couple of years. 

Located within a large natural reserve of the same name in southern Campeche, Calakmul has been open to the public for decades. 

Calakmul traces its history as far back as the second millennium BCE but became a true superpower in the 3d century CE. Photo: Carlos Rosado van der Gracht / Yucatán Magazine

During the classic age, starting in the second half of the third century BCE, Calakmul had risen to considerable importance. But it would not be until several centuries after that the city would reach its greatest splendor.

During the fifth century CE, Calakmul had become bold and strong enough to begin challenging the city which would become its greatest rival, Tikal. It is also during this time that the powerful Kan dynasty appears to have consolidated its power in the city.

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