Cultural Heritage: Chactun, Mexico

In his critically acclaimed novel 1984, author George Orwell wrote that “the most effective way to destroy people is to deny and obliterate their own understanding of their history”[i]. To understand a culture fully, one must first develop an understanding of said cultures history. However, in some circumstances, understanding the history of a culture is difficult due to a lack of information available. This proves to be true in Latin American culture, as the important details of the Mayan civilization still remain, in some respects, unclear. Recently, a new Mayan city has been discovered that has introduced to the world, and, in particular, Latin American peoples, new ideas about the history of this diverse and intriguing culture. Through the analysis of artifacts and artworks found at Chactun, new and important details regarding the history of Mayan civilization, and consequently Latin American culture as a whole, can be uncovered and understood.

The discovery of Chactun has been extremely important in the development of defining Latin American culture, as it has brought forth new ideas regarding the functions of ancient cities in the Southeast area of Mexico. Unlike some Mayan sites, Chactun remained in fairly stable condition, and over 15 pyramid remains, courts, altars, and monuments were found at the site[ii]. The monuments found at Chactun suggest that the city was primarily used as a political centre[iii], and an analysis of the hieroglyphs found on these structures suggests that they were used as offerings to the major political and dynastic figures[iv]. It is estimated that the city of Chactun existed between the years 600 and 900 A.D., thus making it a part of the Mayan Classical Period[v]. This period was devoted to recording the lives of political rulers and dynastic figures in order to continue the legacy of the bloodline, which would explain the presence of political monuments throughout the city. The understanding of these political structures is extremely important for understanding the history of Latin America, as it shows that a previously undiscovered and pursued region of Mexico may have held a very important role in the function of the Mayan civilization as a whole.

Political monuments were not the only items found by archeologists at the city of Chactun. A series of ceramic pieces have also been found and are currently being examined to uncover what they can tell us about Mayan culture. Ceramic art pieces have been found at other Mayan cities and seem to reveal crucial information regarding the culture of these areas. In the past, Mayan ceramics have provided Latin American peoples with firsthand accounts of what political rulers wore, as well as what a typical offering scene would look like[vi]. Since the Mayans lived in a time before technology and the concept of the photographic truth, ceramic pieces like these are held in very high regard, as they offer the modern world with the closest recollection of the times that is currently available. It is also known that most Mayan art of the Classical Period was intended to document blood lines of the kings and rulers, to ensure that the families rule was continued on to future generations[vii]. If the ceramic artifacts discovered at Chactun prove to depict the lives of Ancient rulers in a manner similar to other ceramic artifacts of the time, this would indicate that many of the important rulers may have lived or worked in Chactun. This would add further value to the city, and provide people living in the area currently with a newfound sense of pride, and potentially a new identity. The ceramic pieces and artworks found at Chactun hold the potential to expose the world to new details that may prove to be extremely powerful in Latin American culture and identity.

The new city of Chactun is extremely important not only to the visual arts but also to the exploration of uncovering the Mayan past and its relationship with modern Latin American culture. While the area of Southeast Mexico remained undiscovered for many years, it is now being suggested that these areas may have been extremely important to Mayan civilization, and could also hold a deeper and richer past than previously understood. The political structures found at Chactun suggest that the city more than likely served an important political purpose in Mayan civilization, while the ceramic artifacts hold the potential to create a visual understanding of the culture of the time. The new city and the contents within may open a new door into understanding the interests, morals, and beliefs of Mayan peoples. Hopefully, this previously uncovered information provides many people living in the area with a new sense of identity and pride for their area of residence. It is, after all, unfair for these people to live without a full sense of identity, and a true knowledge of their history.

Sara Deveau

Works Cited

[i] George Orwell, 1984, (New York: Signet Publishing, 1950), chap. 3.

[ii] “Maya City Discovered in Mexican Jungle.” International Business Times, June 21, 2013.|A334604785&v=2.1&u=guel77241&it=r&p=AONE&sw=w&asid=21a4968d3a9919cc95d27b61b7ab82f9 (accessed October 20, 2013).

[iii] “Maya City Discovered in Mexican Jungle.” International Business Times, June 21, 2013.|A334604785&v=2.1&u=guel77241&it=r&p=AONE&sw=w&asid=21a4968d3a9919cc95d27b61b7ab82f9 (accessed October 20, 2013).

[iv] “Maya City Discovered in Mexican Jungle.” International Business Times, June 21, 2013.|A334604785&v=2.1&u=guel77241&it=r&p=AONE&sw=w&asid=21a4968d3a9919cc95d27b61b7ab82f9 (accessed October 20, 2013).

[v] Thomas Reuters, “Ancient Maya city found in Mexican nature reserve,” BBC, (accessed October 27, 2013).

[vi]A.W. (1967). Two painted Maya ceramics. Calendar of the Art Institute of Chicago61(3), 1-5. Retrieved from

[vii] Klein, C. F. (1988). Mayamania: “the blood of kings” in retrospect. Art Journal47(1), 42-46. Retrieved from

This entry was posted in ceramics, Chactun, Classical period, hieroglyphs, Mayan civilization, Pyramids. Bookmark the permalink.

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