The following is an article excerpt from the Spring 2020 Issue of American Archaeology MagazineBecome a member to subscribe and read the full story! 

By Michael Bawaya

Nelda Marengo Camacho lay on her stomach on a wooden plank that spanned an excavation trench and gently removed dirt from the top of a long, narrow object with a small paint brush. After a moment it became clear that the object was a human bone. Once the bone has been recovered from the trench, she will analyze it, as well as other human remains that have been found, to determine if some of Chichén Itzá’s residents came from other places. “We don’t really know where the people were coming from,” she said.

This partially-reconstructed drum was associated with one of Chichén Itzá’s sacbes. | Credit: Jerry Rabinowitz
The east wing of the building known as the Nunnery features elaborate carvings. | Credit: Jerry Rabinowitz
The House of the Phalli is part of the Initial Series Group. The structure’s name comes from its iconography. | Credit: Jerry Rabinowitz
Jose Osorio León explains the different construction sequences of a building to Nelda Marengo Camacho. | Credit: Jerry Rabinowitz
The INAH crew removed some of the green mold from the walls of this room in the House of the Shells. They also sealed some of the roof capstones | Credit: Jerry Rabinowitz
The interior of West Colonnade near the Temple of the Warriors. | Credit: Jerry Rabinowitz
In addition to the spectacular ruins, Chichén Itzá also features myriad vendors who sell a wide variety of items. | Credit: Jerry Rabinowitz

That’s one of several questions that archaeologists with the Chichén Itzá Project are trying to answer. Who was living there? Who governed them? What type of political system did they have? Marengo Camacho, who is one of those archaeologists, observed that researchers have been studying the city for more than 100 years, but nonetheless “Chichén is a place full of questions.”

Much of the previous archaeological work was focused on “conservation and consolidation” of Chichén Itzá’s central plaza, according to Marengo Camacho. In 1894 the American Edward Herbert Thompson, the United States Consul to Yucatán, bought the Hacienda Chichén, which included the land on which the spectacular ruins stood. (Despite Thompson owning the land, the ruins themselves remained the property of the Mexican government.) Thompson was once of the opinion that Maya ruins were in fact constructed by the denizens of the mysterious lost continent Atlantis. But several decades of research, during which he attained fluency in the Yucatec Maya language, disabused him of this idea.

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