The grid plan from urban planning has had its historical roots that are at least 4,600 years old. To that end, the first specimens of such advanced grid-based planning was found in both Mohenjo-daro and Harappa, the burgeoning settlements of the Indus Valley Civilization (circa 2600 BC) of the Indian subcontinent. The pattern was followed up by Ancient Egyptians (in their worker-inhabited villages), Babylonians, Chinese, Greeks and the Romans. But this is the first time that archaeologists have come across an grid-based city constructed by the Mayans, with the settlement being located at Nixtun-Ch’ich’ in Petén, Guatemala, and its presumed date of origin being from around 600 – 300 BC.
Just to clarify, grid-patterned settlements had been encountered in Mesoamerica before, with one notable example pertaining to the grand city of Teotihuacan (close to present-day Mexico City). But this megacity was not related to the exploits of the more southern dwelling Mayans. As for the site of Nixtun-Ch’ich’ in question here, researchers had been examining the location for over 20 years. As a result, they have found many Mayan artworks that date from a later period, but further analysis of these remains had revealed clues of a ‘mother city‘ from an earlier period.
Taking advantage of these numerous assessments, the experts were finally able to locate the ancient city, and then unearth a small part of it. Advanced mapping techniques allowed them to comprehend the main layout of this settlement – with the arrangement aptly showcasing the Mayan urban-planning prowess relating to orientation. To that end, the city’s primary ceremonial route runs impeccably close to an east-west line, with just being 3 degrees off the east. This swathe of singular alignment consists of fifteen buildings – all arrayed along a nigh straight line. These structures also included flat-topped pyramids (with temples at their top-most level) that probably rose to 100 ft (30 m) in height.
The ceremonial route finally culminates on the eastern side with a group of closely bunched buildings with the so-called triadic arrangement (three pyramid-like structures facing each other). Such kind of layouts are also found in other Mayan settlements, with their east-side bearing alluding to the starting point of the sun-path and its subsequent religious significance. As for the residential part of the city in questions, dwellings were found both north and south of this east-west thoroughfare, and their planning also complied with a grid-based pattern. Interestingly, many of the major buildings were coated in glistening white plaster – as was also the case with the original facades of the Great Pyramid of Giza. But unlike Giza, the Nixtun-Ch’ich’ site had protective walls that were presumably built as defensive structures.
Oddly enough, in spite of the effectiveness of a grid-based plan, the residents of the city were probably not happy with their ‘controlled’ environment, as opposed to the openness of other Mayan settlements. In any case, the Nixtun-Ch’ich’ site remains one of those inspiring examples where modern-day locals played crucial role in protecting their rich Mayan cultural heritage (and artifacts) from looters. In that regard, the present-day native cattle-ranchers of the place even resorts to an ingenious ‘tactic’ that makes use of a rapid-growing grass variety for holding the site’s soil from erosion (while also doubling up as fodder for cattle).
The extensive research was formally presented by Professor Timothy Pugh (from Queens College in New York) and his team, at the Society for American Archaeology’s Annual Meeting.
Source: Live Science / Featured Image Credit: Timothy Pugh.