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Vanderbilt archaeological team unearths buried Maya royal palace

igrapher Federico Fahsen was reconstructing the history of the site by deciphering its monuments. The city's statuary had been looted in the past, so he tracked down some of it in private and public collections. The story he has found is likely to cause major revisions in the scholarly views of Maya civilization.

Cancuén was ruled by one of the oldest Maya dynasties, one that was already well established by 300 A.D. So far, the researchers have found no evidence that Cancuén conducted any major wars with its neighbors. Instead, Cancuén's rulers appear to have been single-mindedly dedicated to commerce. Their location, at the beginning of the navigable stretch of the Pasion River, the major waterway used by the Maya, allowed them to control the trade in precious commodities between the Guatemalan highlands and the jungle lowlands. The record shows that they used their wealth to form alliances throughout the Maya world. The researchers think that the palace had such a large number of rooms to house visiting royalty from their many allies.

The fact that Cancuén appears to have prospered for hundreds of years without warfare and that commerce appeared to play a far more important role in everyday life than religion contradicts the widespread view among scholars that religion and warfare were the sources of power for Maya kings, particularly toward the end of their dominance, after about 600 A.D.

"I have a book in press that I'll have to revise," says Demarest. "It just goes to show that you can't believe everything you read on one dynasty's monuments."


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Contact: David F. Salisbury
david.salisbury@vanderbilt.edu
615-343-6803
Vanderbilt University
7-Sep-2000


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