Río Azul is an archaeological site of the Pre-Columbian Maya civilization. It is the most important site in the Río Azul National Park in the Petén Department of northern Guatemala, close to the borders of Mexico and Belize. Río Azul is situated to the southeast of the Azul river and its apogee dates to the Early Classic period (c. AD 250–600).

The earliest major architecture dates to around 500 BC, in the Late Preclassic period (c. 350 BC – AD 250). In the late 4th century AD Río Azul was dominated by the city of Tikal and its great central Mexican ally Teotihuacan. Tikal used Río Azul to secure an important trade route to the Caribbean Sea and challenge Calakmul, its great rival. The city was largely abandoned in the 6th century but saw a resurgence in the Late Classic (c. AD 600–900), probably as a result of repopulation by Kinal.

Río Azul was first settled in the Middle Preclassic (c. 1000–350 BC) around 900 BC and underwent a period of notable expansion during the Late Preclassic,[1] at which time a number of monumental temples were built.[2] These have been dated to around 500 BC.[3] In the Preclassic the population was spread out along the east bank of the river; in the Late Preclassic the population began to concentrate on the ridge, and this continued into the Early Classic period.[4]

In the late 4th century AD Río Azul came to be dominated by the city of Tikal.[5] Scenes depicting the sacrifice of at least eight nobles are sculpted on a series of three circular altars dated to AD 385; this has been interpreted as the sacrifice of the local elite after a takeover by Tikal and its Teotihuacano allies.[6] The Teotihuacan warlord Siyaj K'ak' is mentioned in an inscription at Río Azul dated to AD 393,[7] during the reign of king Yax Nuun Ayiin I at Tikal.[8] The military costume of Yax Nuun Ayiin I depicted on monuments at both Tikal and Río Azul, combined with a number of hieroglyphic texts, links the Tikal king with the political events at Río Azul at this time.[9] Tikal's dominance over Río Azul at this time would have secured an important trade route to the Caribbean and would have challenged Calakmul, Tikal's great rival, which would have used the Hondo river for its own route to the sea.[8] This incursion into Calakmul's sphere of influence provoked a period of fierce rivalry between the two powers that ultimately led to the downfall of Río Azul.[10] During the Early Classic, the nearby site of La Milpa was probably subject to Río Azul.[11]

The city underwent a pronounced decline in the 6th century, towards the end of the Early Classic, and it may even have been abandoned at this time.[2] This period corresponds to a period of conflict between Tikal and Calakmul during which there is evidence of deliberate destruction at Río Azul. The city was probably overrun by Calakmul due to its alliance with Tikal and its influence over the trade route to the Caribbean.[2] The site was resettled during the Late Classic; this was probably overseen by Kinal. The population was concentrated in the residential areas and there was little new construction.[2] Ceramic finds at Río Azul demonstrate that Maya trade routes still ran through the city in the 9th century,[12] however the city was completely abandoned by AD 880.[13]

Modern history

The ruins were discovered in 1962 by Trinidad Pech; soon after their discovery a number of elite tombs were plundered by looters.[2] The looters dug large trenches cutting through the most important temples;[14] at the height of the looting in the late 1970s as many as 80 workers were employed, funded by a wealthy private collector.[15] Archaeologist Ian Graham travelled to Río Azul in 1981 to follow up rumours of the looting and document the damage; as a result of his survey the Guatemalan government stationed custodians at the site. Richard Adams started formal investigations of Río Azul in 1983,[2] beginning the five-year Río Azul Project, which finished in 1987.[16] The project investigated and documented more than 125 looters' trenches and tunnels.[17]

^ SharerTraxler 2006, p. 326. Adams 1990, p. 23. ^ a b c d e f Sharer and Traxler 2006, p. 326. ^ Adams 2000, p. 30. ^ Adams 1990, p. 28. ^ Sharer and Traxler 2006, p. 325. ^ Sharer and Traxler 2006, p. 326. Hammond 2000, p. 217. ^ Martin and Grube 2000, p. 30. ^ a b Sharer and Traxler 2006, p. 327. ^ Borowicz 2003, p. 233. ^ Sharer and Traxler 2006, p. 376. ^ Cite error: The named reference Webster02p289 was invoked but never defined (see the help page). ^ Hammond and Tourtellot 2004, 2005, p. 298. ^ Hammond 2000, p. 217. ^ Drew 1999, p. 202. ^ Grazioso et al. 2006, p. 729. ^ Adams 1990, p. 23. ^ Adams 1990, pp. 23, 25.
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