Ixkun – Guatemala



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Ixkun – Guatemala


The site is located 6.5 km from the town of Dolores, Peten, near the city of Poptun. You can reach Dolores by road, and the archaeological area by a dirt track in good condition. It is surrounded by a forest with rich primary species, which measures 25 sq km and has National Park status. Two crystalline streams cross the site from east to west, and in the rainy season they often burst their banks. To avoid floods, the builders laid fillings of loose stones under the plazas so that the water could run between them and find their own exit, thus avoiding flooding. The system still works today. Ixkun is situated in the Maya Mountains and its importance lies in that it was able to exploit its geographical position near the rivers Mopan and Xaan to control the fluvial trade routes. It achieved great economic prosperity and was a strong political presence in the region, dominating several smaller centres. It has 51 architectural groups and was occupied from the Preclassic to the beginning of the Postclassic, although its peak occurred between AD 600 and 800.

History of the explorations

The site was discovered by Modesto Mendez in 1852, who also recorded Tikal when he was the governor of Peten. As time went by, other explorers arrived to photograph, draw and map the nine stelae. The first formal investigations were undertaken in 1985, following the arrival of archaeologists from the Archaeological Atlas, who work for the Guatemalan Institute of Anthropology and History.

Pre-Hispanic history

The epigraphic studies have revealed historical references to Ixkun. Five monuments mention events associated with changes in the political organisation between AD 766 and 800. Stela 2, dated to AD 779, refers to two wars waged against Sacul and Ucanal in which Ixkun emerged victorious and with greater power. The political strength of the Maya city is also revealed by the inscriptions on Stela 1 which make reference to the ruler Rabbit God K of Ixkun and the sovereign Ch’iyek of Sacul, and the alliances struck through a royal marriage.

Site description

The main complexes are situated in the middle of the city and comprise large buildings where political, administrative and ceremonial activities were conducted. The most notable spaces are the North Plaza, the Central Plaza and the South Plaza, as well as two causeways more than 200 m long that connected the important groups. The North Plaza is the most important such space at Ixkun and it is here that the Astronomical Complex, used for recording the solar cycle and the calendars, is situated. Several sculpted monuments were erected in the middle of the plaza, including stelae 1, 2 and 3, Altar 2 and other monuments. Stela 1 is particularly monumental; it is the tallest stela in the whole of Peten and was erected in AD 790. The South Plaza is the largest square and comprises the Ball Court and the Acropolis. This court from the Late Classic has a north-south axis and measures 17.40 m in length and 3.50 metres in width. The Acropolis is the most complex construction at Ixkun and was built at the top of a modified limestone hill. In the South Group, three caves were found at the base of several natural mounds and 30 vessels were discovered inside them. The traces of copal, tar, coal, ocote wood and strips of burnt wood confirm that the caves were used for religious activities from the year 200 BC. The residential areas are situated in the north and south sections, comprising 35 groups of four or five buildings each, making a grand total of 175 dwellings. These are low platforms on which wattle-and-daub houses were built and, near them, chultunes for storing grain.

Juan Antonio Valdes

From: ‘The Maya: an architectural and landscape guide’, produced jointly by the Junta de Andulacia and the Universidad Autonoma de Mexico, 2010, pp230-231

How to get there:

It’s about 7km on a fairly rough country track from the town of Dolores. If you have plenty of time – and the inclination – it might be a pleasant walk, through a mixture of farm land and fairly established jungle but it will be hot. I am not aware of any safety issues but it might be worth checking. Or you can negotiate with a mototaxi (tuk-tuk) driver, there are always many in the centre of town. It’s a bargaining matter and no one will be worse at that than me. You would probably also want to do a two way trip with a wait. However, it’s not a very big site (see the pictures in the slide show) so it wouldn’t need a long stay.


16d 34’16” N

89d 24’33” W



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The Museo Regional del Sureste del Peten – Dolores

Museo Regional del Sureste del Peten - Dolores

Museo Regional del Sureste del Peten – Dolores

More on the Maya

The Museo Regional del Sureste del Peten – Dolores

The principal regional museum is situated in the town of Nuestra Senora de Dolores, at km 401 on the road from Guatemala to the city of Flores, the capital of the Peten department. It opened in 2005 with the mission of preserving and disseminating information about the region’s archaeological heritage.

South-eastern Peten lies in the Maya Mountains in a natural beauty spot comprising diverse elements such as the rivers Xa’an and Mopan, which include natural waterfalls and drops. It also boasts a large cultural legacy thanks to numerous archaeological sites in the area and ruins from the ancient Maya civilisation, some of which have been declared protected national parks by the Guatemalan Directorate-General of Cultural and Natural Heritage.

The museum is situated in the town centre, near the colonial Catholic church, on a natural elevation with magnificent views over the valley. The cultural area occupies two levels: a landscaped square where outdoor cultural activities are organised and the museum itself, which is accessed by a flight of steps at the centre of the main facade.

The museum is divided into four sections: an administrative section and three exhibition sections. The permanent archaeological exhibition features 22 sites and three caves in the region, represented by 129 artefacts, while the chronological spectrum ranges from the Preclassic period (900 BC) to the Postclassic and beyond (AD 1000-1524). The exhibits were all found during excavations conducted as part of a national programme called the Archaeological Atlas of Guatemala, and many of them correspond to offerings associated with burials discovered in residential groups and the core areas of the different sites.

The first room is dedicated to pottery, although there is one display case with materials such as stone, shell and bone. The exhibits vary from projectile points, knives and flint eccentrics to marine material represented by polished star-shaped plaques. There are also several rings, a flower-shaped bezote (ring worn in the upper lip) and a conch necklace. One of the most fascinating pieces in this case is an alabaster vase from an offering at Sacul. The pottery exhibits include incense burners and polychrome globular cooking pots, bowls, plates, dishes and large containers, some of them with iconographic scenes. The last section of the room is given over to a slate sculpture, Stela 1 from Ixtonton.

The remaining sculptures are distributed between the second room and the entrance hall. There are 31 limestone pieces, including fragments of stelae, anthropomorphic heads, various dignitary torsos and two panels, one from Ixtutx composed of six carved fragments, and a four-piece panel from Machaquila. The museum is within easy reach by car or bus from Flores (82 km), and Dolores offers hotels, restaurants, petrol stations, transport routes, banks, etc. Opening hours are Tuesday to Sunday, from 8 am to 4 pm.

Lilian Corzo

From: ‘The Maya: an architectural and landscape guide’, produced jointly by the Junta de Andulacia and the Universidad Autonoma de Mexico, 2010, pp232-233

This is a small, modern museum which displays its small collection in a clear and uncluttered manner. Every object is labelled but the information is only in Spanish.

Helpful staff. Closed on Monday’s (as are most state museums) but they might well open if you arrive when there are people around.

Getting there;

Follow the straight as a die road, that goes through the centre of the town, until it comes to a T-junction where you go up hill two blocks, then turning right at the sign for the dirt road to Ixkun. It’s on the left, up a flight of steps with a fenced area at the top.

Opening times;

Open everyday, except Monday, 08.00-1700



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