Documenting an early frieze depiciting a scene from the Popul Vuh- a structure related to the management and control of water collection


FARES, GHF, PACUNAM, and the Government of Guatemala have formally opened the site of El Mirador, the largest Maya complex in the world, to the public including complete restoration of the entire complex of El Mirador, the namesake for Mirador Archaeological and Wildlife Preserve, containing the oldest and largest pyramid in the Maya world – La Danta.

El Mirador will become the engine for sustainable tourism and economic development in Northern Peten, Guatemala. We expect to complete the conservation of La Danta in 2012 along with 10-12 other major buildings at El Mirador. Multiple sources of funding will complete the restoration and conservation of La Danta, the North Acropolis, Structure 34, La Muerta and Cascabel complexes.

Mirador’s most important archaeological treasures include:

  • Emergency consolidation and stabilization of La Danta Pyramid threatened major architecture at El Mirador.
  • Large-scale archaeological excavations at El Mirador including Structure 34 exposing Preclassic mask reliefs and numerous plaza and platform excavations at the site.
  • Preliminary exploration and mapping of previously unknown and unexplored ancient cities (La Sarteneja, La Tortuga, Paxban, Wakna, El Camotillo, El Guiro, El Porvenir, La Ceibita, la Florecita, La Iglesia) Tintal, Naba, Bejucal, and Xulnal.
  • Discovery of major ancient Preclassic (ca. 300-200 B.C.) wall paintings at Wakna, similar to those found at San Bartolo and at Porvenir (Late Classic, ca. A.D. 700).

FARES and partner PACUNAM also support the nomination process of cultural and / or natural properties as world heritage declared by UNESCO, providing support to the World Heritage Delegation of Guatemala.

The Archaeological Management Plan for the Mirador Cultural and Natural System is a joint effort of PACUNAM, FARES, IDAEH, and GHF, to develop a logical and efficient framework for the activities of archaeological research and conservation of the area, taking into account the development of tourism in the next 10 to 15 years. This framework presents a clear management structure with specific geographical areas for nature protection, archaeological research and conservation, and the development of sustainable activities. It also outlines priorities for the archaeological activity and the development of tourism circuit. This circuit provides the basis for the conservation of resources and the expansion of tourism, promoting the growth of local economies and the improvement of the existing infrastructure.

Archaeological studies and conservation measures are performed at the following sites, as of 2010:

El Mirador:

  • La Danta
  • La Pava
  • Jaguar Paw Temple (Structure 34)
  • Cascabel Group (Structures 200,204)
  • La Muerta
  • The Central Acropolis (Structures 313,314,315,304, and the central acropolis water system)
  • Testing of various plaza groups
  • Faisanes Group
  • Faisanes-Mirador Causeway
  • Tzunun Group
  • Venado Group
  • Pedernal
  • Tigre
  • Defensive Wall System
  • El Mirador Hydraulic Wall System


  • Tintal-Mirador Causeway
  • Test pitting of selected plazas
  • Henequin Pyramid area
  • Pavo Pyramid area
  • Stela 1 and Altar 2 at base of site


  • West Group: Structure 1, Structure 4, Structure 13, Group 18, Structure 26, Structure 27, Structure 31
  • Calzada Kan
  • Grupo Cimi
  • East Group: Structure 32, Structure 47, Structure 48, Structure 49, Structure 51, Structure 52, Structure 53, Structure 59, Structure 67 Group, la Cancha de Pelota, Mon 8.
  • Sur. Grupo 500, 502, Grupo Coral, Plaza Benson
  • Oeeste: Grupo Cascabel, Calzada Cascabel
  • Norte: Grupo Códice

Southern Mirador Basin:

Preliminary exploration, test excavations, and mapping were conducted in the following ancient cities.
  • Al Che
  • El Camaron
  • El Escondido
  • El Ramonal
  • Hun Zacatal
  • Ka Zacatel
  • La Muneca
  • La Pailona
  • La Union
  • Los Torres
  • Chab Che
  • El Cedro
  • El Pesquerro
  • El Resbalon
  • Ixtabay
  • La Mazacuata
  • Xubil
  • La Reforma
  • Las Ilusiones
  • Ox Zacatal

La Danta

Preclassic Construction

The stabilization and conservation of the Danta Complex require the greatest concentration of operational staff at the site of El Mirador. Efforts were focused on the excavation and consolidation of the upper west façade of the summit structure as well as the stabilization and consolidation of the northern and southern sides of the upper building.

Third Platform of Danta

Excavations located at the base of the third platform of the Danta Complex located the finely preserved blocks of the lower staircase, as well as the Late Preclassic wall of the first level, with massive stones placed with the long axis into the building. The work was supervised Francisco Lopez, Geovanni Gonzalez, and Sheryl Carcuz. The Excavation also located the remains of a debris and garbage midden dating to the Late Classic and terminal Late Classic periods ( A.D. 700- 900) which provided a wealth of information including ceramics, figurines, bone, shell, and stone tools, in great abundance. The analysis of these materials will provide a broad view of the lives of people who resided in the area during the later history of the abandoned Danta.

Although the lower steps of the third level were remarkably preserved the upper levels appear to have been removed during the late Classic period, wither for stone construction or lime burning activities. A cache offering was placed at the center base of the stairway, deposited during the Classic period, which consisted of two large ceramic plated placed on top of the other, rim to rim.

Basal Stairway

Work on the lower first platform of the Danta Complex consisted of extensive horizontal exposure of the primary stairway of the building. (Op. 402R and 402S) which were supervised by Guatemalan students Ana Arriola and Monica Charvarria. Excavations also continues on the northern side of the stairway (402K) with the resultant discovery of heavily stuccoed steps that were painted red, reflects the style and decoration of the staircase when it was used.

Structures 313-315

Archaeologist Beatriz Belcarcel, who determined that the building was constructed in five different stages, supervised the extensive excavations in Structure 313 and the base of Structure 314. Detailed excavation and consolidation of this structure demonstrates that it was initially, a public-religious temple with spacious stairways, panels and several masks.

However, the building was remodeled to include the narrowing of the stairs and intentional burial of the architectural art in what is being interpreted as the conversion of a public structure to a private residential building. The timing indicates a complete phase of construction and occupation during the Late Preclassic period.

The latest seasons excavations extended along the base of the northereastern facades and allows one to observe the size and morphology of both the original construction and the remolding phases. In addition, evidence was recovered from the last occupation of the structure with the presence of pottery, lithics, shell, and other objects as a witness of the last day of its Preclassic occupation.

Excavations were also directed on the neighboring Structure 315 which has a central staircase and an upper chamber. The features known so far show consistent architectural style with Structure 314 in its form, construction technique, dating, and general good condition.

Structure 304

Guatemalan archaeologist Paulino Morales and Kara Nichols of University of California, San Diego / Idaho State University field school initiated excavations on the northern stairway access of the Great Central Acropolis, in order to exposed the architectural features of what must have been one of the most important buildings in El Mirador, Structure 34.

Although much of the work on this low platform structure had been constructed previously by Dr. Ray Matheny of Brigham Young University in 1981 and 1982, the investigations conducted by Morales consisted of re-excavation backfill as well exposure to the massive stones which appear to have been stelae, placed in rows along the edge of the platform structure. The location of this building, placed precisely at the summit of the principal stairway into the Central Acropolis indicated an important function for this structures, including a series of woven mat elements modeled in stucco along the edges if the building. Additional work on the primary stairway of the platform revealed two major phases of work on the primary stairway construction, with earlier stairways in near pristine condition.

Ancient Water Systems & Stucco Frieze

FARES work has uncovered an ancient and well-preserved water collection and reservoir system within the Great Central Acropolis. Dr. Craig Argyle (ISU) exposed the ornate stucco panels of profound cosmological significance. Swimming figures of modeled and painted plaster suggest rich ideological themes related to may water collection as well as scenes that appear to be related to the Popol Vuh, the sacred book of the Mayan creation story that was found in the highlands of Guatemala in 1700. The frieze has a particular reference to the Hero Twins of the Popol Vuh with the decapitated head of their father, and images of Chac, the Mayan deity of water and rain. As well as depiction s of Itzamma, the great creators of the Maya in avian form. The architecture associated with these images represent pools, waterfalls drainage channels, and water collection mechanisms to capture and control water resources near the large reservoirs.

Tigre Pyramid

Excavations on the summit of Tigre pyramid continue with major work on the upper platform, the façade of the principal structure, and continued stabilization and consolidation of the northern triadic building. Excavation of the south façade of the northern building, Structure 4D3-2 was supervised by Lecida. Monica Pellecer. The façade of this building was heavily damaged, but due to its importance and prominence it will remain under investigation to identify architectural features and provide necessary stabilization and consolidation. Excavations on Structure 4D3-2, a small platform located on the upper platform of Tigre and the center of triadic group was continued by Laura Velasquez which , like Structure 4D3-2, was heavily damaged by exposure to the elements and possible some intentional ancient mutilation. Velasquez also conducted excavations at the base of the primary dominant structure of the triadic group of buildings on the main platform of Tigre, with the northern façade and base of the stairway exposed of Structure 4D3-1, an area which had previously excavated in part by Richard Hansen in 1982. One of the important discoveries during the excavations on the summit of Tigre was the consisted appearance of obsidian and chert projectile points, with obsidian from the highlands of Mexico (Pachuca, Otumba, Paredon). And chert points from the Maya Lowlands, in what Richard Hansen previously identified as a likely battle scene between the highland Mexicans from Teoihuacan and the lowland Maya, The Extraordinary concentration of projectile points, axes, and destruction on the principal platform of Tigre suggests that the area must have been the site of a military conflict, perhaps as late as the Early Classic period, long after most of the site had been abandoned. Additional studies are now being conducted on the projectile points, which may shed much more information about the use, chronology, and function of the points.

Cascabel Structure 200

Major excavations on the Cascabel Group, located on the northern side of the massive Leon Complex at El Mirador resulted in the horizontal exposure of the facades of Structures 200 and 2004. Structure 200 excavations were supervised by Landon Hansen and Richard Hansen and consisted of the exposure of a large portion of the south façade of the building. Excavations exposed the massive blocks of the original wall as well as the remains of two stairways, mainly at the base of the building. An architectural mask was exposed at the base of the façade wall during the Early Classic period, perhaps as a looting venture.

A tunnel placed in the building on the west side of the central staircase revealed that the entire building was built in a single effort during the Middle Preclassic period (600B.C. – 400 B.C.) suggesting that the structures in the Cascabel group are among the earliest in the entire architectural corpus at El Mirador.

Cascabel Structure 204

Structure 204 was extensively excavated recently, with a horizontal exposure of a majority of the south façade of the building. The work was supervised by Lic. Gustavo Martinez, with assistance of Lic. Alvaro Jacobo and student Carlos Castellanos. The exposure of stairways in good condition, platforms, walls, and facades provided evidence of the sophistication of Preclassic architecture. However, ceramics recovered from an intrusive looters’ excavation within the building suggest that is too, like Structure 200, dates back to Middle Preclassic period, making the presence of these extremely early buildings most curious in the overall settlement pattern of the site.

Pava Complex

Excavations in the Pava Complex, located on the east side first platform of the Data pyramid, consists of the horizontal exposure of the upper building of the Pava pyramid. This building, known as Structure 2A6-3, was excavated along the north façade under the supervision of Lic Edgar Suyuc and student Ana Arriola to consolidate existing art and architecture and determine the architectural features of the building. Architectural elements include well preserved features such as the central staircase, the remains of the upper chamber, the poorly preserved remains of the two large masks which flanked the staircase, and the remains of the walls of the east and west facades, allowing more adequate interpretation for this Late Preclassic building, which dominates the first level of the Danta platforms. In addition, excavations were conducted on the staircase from first to second platform of the Acropolis La Pava, which previoiusly explored by Wayne Howell in 19181-1982. The recent exposure of the art and architecture directed by Lic. Edgar Suyuc, found that the first three steps were well preserved while the remainder of the steps extending toward the summit of the building appear to have has the massive stone blocks removed, leaving the molded surface of the fill as indicators of where the original steps had been. The project took advantage of the previous excavation made by Howell on the staircase to place a tunnel through the base of the second Platform. The result is promising with the fill consisting of a firm mud and clay base that will enable further tunnel excavations in the summit.

Defensive Wall

Excavations were begun during the 2007 and 2008 field seasons on the major wall that surrounds the West Group of monumental architecture at El Mirador. This wall surrounds the western portion of the city on the northern, eastern, and southern flanks. The complex feature, interpreted as a defensive construction, consists of a wall 4-8 meters high and 20-30 meters wide in its ruinded state. Megan R. Pitcavage of the University of California, San Diego, supervised the excavations of the wall at the point of access between the West Group of El Mirador and the Danta causeway. A portion of this area had previously been excavated by Elizabeth Chambers (Catholic University) from 1980 to 1982. Pitcavage's work exposed a staircase, the edges of the wall, the access lane, and the stucco surface of the Danta Causeway. The wall has proven to be complex, primarily because portions of the construction had either been removed by Chambers or had been robbed for stone in antiquity. Also, substantial portions of the wall had endured damage due to the elements. Continued excavations in this area will be important to understand the chronology and formation of this architectural feature.

Mirador – Tintal Causeway

Under the direction of Dr. Thomas Schriener and Guatemalan archaeologist Enrique Hernandez investigations continue on the causeway between El Mirador and Tintal. Scientific objectives include mapping, reconnaissance, and excavation of the ancient causeway system to determine chronology, the relationship with the seasonal swamps associated with the causeway, and to define the archaeological and natural features that correspond to the natural and cultural history of the area. A regional camp was built near a former chiclero stop known as Naranjita, where workmen cleared low bush and small trees on the causeway so that the causeway was more easily observed. Furthermore, relocating the tourist trail to the causeway provided a vastly improved route where visitors were able to walk in a straight line and on an elevated platform. In addition, major settlements were located associated with the causeway which were mapped with repositioning instruments and planimetric mapping tools.