A New National Park for Guatemala?

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“A New National Park for Guatemala?” Ensign, Jan. 1981, 79

A New National Park for Guatemala?

Deep in the Guatemalan jungle a team of Brigham Young University archaeologists have been working for many months to uncover the ruins of El Mirador, an ancient Mayan city located about 225 miles north of Guatemala City.

Significant archaeological discoveries in the area recently prompted Dr. Ray Matheny, professor of archaeology and anthropology and leader of the BYU expedition, to invite Guatemalan President Romeo Lucas to visit El Mirador and ask him to declare the site a national park. “The sheer immensity of the ‘forgotten city’ in the jungle is impressive,” Dr. Matheny emphasized. “It could be the largest and oldest city yet discovered in Mesoamerica.”

President Lucas and a score of other government officials excitedly toured the ancient city just before the expedition closed camp for the rainy season. Government leaders would like to see El Mirador become a major tourist attraction, but it will take years before an airfield is built and the ruins are prepared for visitors.

One of the most recent discoveries is a huge sculptured head, described by Dr. Matheny as looking “like a jaguar and a human at the same time, with large teeth, an earspool in the earlobe as a symbolic decoration of authority, and extended jaguar claws as part of the ear decoration.” He believes that the red stucco head, discovered by BYU graduate student Richard Hansen, was carved about 2,000 years ago.

Some one and a half miles from where the sculptured head was unearthed, Dr. Matheny’s group discovered “one of the largest known buildings in antiquity found anywhere in the world.” The building stands twenty stories high with a base measuring one-fifth of a mile. It is also one of the most unusual formations found in Mesoamerica. Built on a centerline with other massive buildings in the area, the structure has a series of platforms on which smaller buildings are located. “Nothing like it is known to exist anywhere else,” Dr. Matheny said.

Students measure a sculpture at El Mirador.