Teen Makes Stellar Discovery of Previously Unknown Maya City

William Gadoury, a 15 year-old Canadian from Quebec, has revolutionized the academic world by using ingenious reasoning to discover a previously unknown Maya city. Based on his own theory - that the Maya chose the location of their cities following constellations, he realized that there must be another undiscovered city in the Yucatan Peninsula in Mexico. Satellite images of the area have confirmed his hypothesis.

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Kabah, Yucatan


The tall mound of rubble is an unrestored pyramid that dates to earlier in the site’s occupation.

The name “Kabah” or “Kabaah” is usually taken to be archaic Maya language for “strong hand”. This is a pre-Columbian name for the site, mentioned in Maya chronicles. An alternative name is Kabahaucan or “royal snake in the hand”.

The area was inhabited by the mid 3rd century BCE. Most of the architecture now visible was built between the 7th century and 11th centuries CE. A sculpted date on a doorjamb of one of the buildings gives the date 879, probably around the city’s height. Another inscribed date is one of the latest carved in the Maya Classic style, in 987. Kabaah was abandoned or at least no new ceremonial architecture built for several centuries before the Spanish conquest of Yucatán.

The most famous structure at Kabah is the “Palace of the Masks”, the façade decorated with hundreds of stone masks of the long-nosed rain god Chaac; it is also known as the Codz Poop, meaning “Rolled Matting”, from the pattern of the stone mosaics. This massive repetition of a single set of elements is unusual in Maya art, and here is used to unique effect.

Masks of the rain god abound on other structures throughout the site. Copal incense has been discovered in some of the stone noses of the raingods. The emphasis placed on Chaac, the “Protector of the Harvest”, both here and at other neighboring Puuc sites, stemmed from the scarcity of water in the region. There are no cenotes in this dryer, northern part of the Yucatán, so the Maya here had to depend solely on rain.

The site also has a number of other palaces, low stone buildings, and step-pyramid temples. While most is in the Puuc Maya style, some show Chenes elements. The site had a number of sculpted panels, lintels, and doorjambs, most of which have been removed to museums elsewhere. The sculptures mostly depict the site’s rulers and scenes of warfare.

The first detailed account of the ruin was published by John Lloyd Stephens and Frederick Catherwood in 1843.

The site is on Mexican highway 261, some 140 km south from Mérida, Yucatán, towards Campeche, Campeche, and is a popular tourism destination. Ruins extend for a considerable distance on both sides of the highway; many of the more distant structures are little visited, and some are still overgrown with forest. As of 2003, a program is ongoing to clear and restore more buildings, as well as archeological excavations under the direction of archeologist Ramón Carrasco.

Kabah was declared a Yucatán state park in 1993.

Our last day in Phoenix, having Mexican food for lunch reminds me of @corwinprescott & my’s #Yucatan adventure! Shooting underwater was a new and unique challenge.

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Tlatollotl’s beachless Yucatan vacation

I gave this list of sites to visit in northern Yucatan to another user on Reddit, but I thought I would share it here and organize it a bit better.

What you need

  • Love of ruins and tacos
  • About a week of vacation time
  • Rental car
  • Willingness to visit as many sites as you can in a day
  • Distaste for beaches

To do a nice loop let’s start in Cancun. This will be the one or two days in which you could visit the beach if you absolutely must visit a beach.

Day 1

Check out of your hotel, hop into your car, and drive south on highway 307 until you reach Tulum. That’s right, you’re going to visit Tulum.

Tulum really isn’t a bad site to visit. What makes it unjoyable for me is the amount of people visiting. There’s a ton. Tulum is the go-to site to visit when you want to spend most of your vacation just lounging on the beach drinking your time away. But that’s not for me and I’m not letting hoards of other tourists ruin my vacation. So in order to get the most out of Tulum it should be your first stop in the morning when there are fewer people that you can enjoy the most out of the site.

This was the closest I got to the ocean. It was close enough for me.

When you’ve finished navigating through the hoards of tourists, get back into your car and follow highway 109 north into the interior of the peninsula. Your next stop today is Coba.

Coba is great if a bit tiring. There are fewer tourists than Tulum and you get to climb this lovely pyramid. Coba has three main areas. The first is near where you buy your ticket, the other two requires a bit of walking or if you prefer biking or being shuttled. I prefer walking to counter all the sitting from the flight and driving around. It shouldn’t be said, but bring water with you. You may not think you’ll need it, but you’ll need it. And when it comes time to climb the pyramid, go up and down in a zig-zag fashion. Trust me. It’s a whole lot easier than holding onto the rope and crawling up on your hands and knees like other people do. After you’ve looked out across the jungle, taking note that each “hill” you see is actually an overgrown pyramid, descend in a zig-zag fashion as well. You’ll thank me later.

At this point a big chunk of your day should be done with. You could try and visit another site, but you’ll probably be rushed. My advice is to stay in Valladolid and you’ll be here for a few days. Follow 109 north until it merges with 180 and follow 180 west until you reach the city. Enjoy the city, have a nice dinner, go to bed early, and get ready for a fun filled day tomorrow.

Day 2

Get your ass up early. Why? Because you’re going to go to Chichen Itza in the morning and it’ll take you about an hour to get there. 

Head west on 180 until you reach the site. You want to get here at dawn and it’s not because you’ll see something neat involving the Castillo or any of the other buildings. You want to avoid the crowds and you want to avoid the heat. Unlike Coba, Chichen Itza is much more open with few opportunities for shade. It isn’t uncommon for people to suffer heat stroke visiting the site. Bring a hat and bring water. It will take you all morning and even some of the afternoon to visit all of Chichen Itza which I highly recommend you do. This will be the most labor intensive site you visit on your vacation, so enjoy it.

When you’ve had enough of the International (not Toltec) architecture style at Chichen, grab some lunch. You can eat at the site which has some decent food or since you’ll be going that way grab a bite to eat back in Valladolid. After you’ve finished eating and are in Valladolid, head north on 295 to reach your next destination, Ek’ Balam.

Ek’ Balam is awesome if only to check out these preserved stucco facades. The site consists of three large platform/residential structures with only one restored as well as a number of other buildings. There are few tourists at this site so you can take your time and get some awesome photos without worrying about anyone walking into your field of view. Seriously, do not miss the chance to visit this site.

After visiting these two fantastic sites, head back to your hotel, get some rest, and get ready to drive to Merida which will be your base of operations for the rest of your trip.

Day 3

To get to Merida from Valladolid without tolls you’ll want to take 180 west. 

From Merida you are going to visit a bunch of sites. I’m going to start from the north and move my way clockwise around the city.

Your first stop is going to be Dzibilchaltun located just north of the city if you take highway 261. The site has a mixture of pre-Columbian and colonial ruins as well as a cenote that you can swim in. I never had a chance to visit this site myself, but it’s is an important site that is featured frequently in the literature.

Your next stop is going to be Ake which is another small site located a little northeast of Merida. To get there, take highway 180 east from Merida until you reach Tahmek and then take Tixkobo-Sotuta north to reach the site. It has a few pyramids and an impressive platform with column bases similar to ones at Chichen Itza, Tula, and La Quemada. This is another site that I unfortunately was not able to visit, but not for a lack of trying. When I rolled into Ake, which is a very tiny town, the sky darkened, the wind picked up, everyone started to stare at me because I was clearly an outsider, and I had the most dreadful feeling come over me. It was as if I was being told not to visit the site, so I didn’t. And as soon as I began leaving the town, the sky cleared up and everything was bright and full of sunshine. This was perhaps the weirdest thing that has ever happened to me anywhere. Take it with a grain of salt.

From Ake you are going to drive back to Tahmek and then continue on 180 east until for a bit before heading northeast on highway 11 which will take you to Izamal, the ‘Yellow City’. They call it that because everything is painted yellow. From the colossal nunnery to the smallest shops. Due to its monochrome nature and friendly and quaint setting, Izamal has actually won the Pueblo Magico award. But you’re here for the ruins, not for the quaintness. Located within Izamal are actually several pyramids that you can visit. I didn’t know that until after I visited so I only got to see one of the pyramids and it happened to be the largest.  The pyramid I visited was dedicated to the Maya Sun god, Kinich Kak Moo (makaw of the solar fire face) and has a base covering over 2 acres (8,000 m²) of ground and a volume of some 700,000 cubic meters. It is huge. As you go up the main staircase you can see that the pyramid was built with large megalithic limestone blocks which have got to weigh at least a few tons. Unfortunately, few people conduct any in depth research on the site as far as I can tell so if you’re like me and hope for an architectural energetics study on the amount of labor that went into building this huge pyramid, you’re going to have to wait.  To the south-east lies another great temple, called Itzamatul, and placed at the south of what was a main plaza, another huge building, called Ppap Hol Chak, was partially destroyed with the construction of a Franciscan temple during the 16th century. The south-west side of the plaza is partially limited by another pyramid, the Hun Pik Tok, and in the west lie the remains of the temple known as Kabul, where a great stucco mask still existed on one side as recently as the 1840s, and a drawing of it by Frederick Catherwood was published by John Lloyd Stephens.  After more than a decade of archaeological work done by Mexican archaeologists at Izamal, over 163 archaeologically important structures have been verified here, and thousands of residential structures at surrounding communities have been located.

Above is a drone shot of the pyramid that I came across on Instagram.

From Izamal you are going to backtrack all the way to 180, head west towards Merida. When you reach Ticopo you are going to head south and visit Acanceh, which is a pyramid off the main plaza of the town. This won’t be a very long stop, but it is going to be well worth it. Acanceh is home to four ritually destroyed stucco masks that have been remarkably preserved.

Finally you are going to end your day by visiting the successor city to Chichen Itza,  Mayapan. To reach this site, head south on 184 from Acanceh. Because Mayapan is the successor to Chichen Itza and features many of the same buildings, but a touch smaller. It’s sometimes described as a poorer Chichen Itza because the buildings don’t look as nice, but that’s because Mayapan was covered in plaster while Chichen was built with carefully cut stone. I had a professor who suggested that Chichen was built with blocks because of such heavy deforestation in the Yucatan by the Maya. They didn’t have the wood to burn limestone to make the plaster they needed to cover their buildings so they had to use blocks. By the time Mayapan was founded enough forest had regrown that they could go back to using plaster. And Mayapan is pretty neat. You can tromp around and visit other parts of the site. The entire city is surrounded by a defensive wall with even more of the city spilling out around it. To give you an idea of the site, this is a high density LiDAR map of the site. All those bumps are a building

Day 4

Are you tired? You should be! But get ready for another jam-packed day. Today you are going to be visiting a bunch of Puuc architectural style sites which will be south of Merida.You’re going to be visiting six sites so this might be your busiest day.

Your first stop will be Chacmultun. To get there head south from Merida on highway 184. While it isn’t a large site, it apparently has well preserved murals. I wasn’t able to visit it on my trip, but it was on my list. If you go that far south there are other sites you can visit along the way. This site and the others are made in the Puuc style, which is a very distinctive architectural style for the Maya.

Continuing with other Puuc sites, you gotta visit Labna. To get there, head back to highway 184 heading northwest until you reach Ticul, then head southwest on Calle 3r until you reach Santa Elena and then head south on 261 and follow the signs. It also has an impressively decorated arch similar to Kabah. There’s really not much else to Labna except the arch.

Sayil/Chac II - these two sites are probably the most impressive sites that are built in the Puuc style mentioned above. These sites are on the same road as Labna and you passed them to get to Labna. Chac II is a bit of a hike from the palace in Sayil, but you can to see some wonderful forest as well as a ton of buildings in ruin. I recommend doing this if you don’t mind walking.

Kabah is awesome and next on your list It is on 261 and you passed it on your way to Labna and Sayil. There is a highway that runs through the site. On one side is a very large and impressive platform with temples at the top covered in Chaac faces. On the other is a standing arch which marks the beginning of a sakbe (white road) the connects Kabah with other sites. The Maya used these sakbe to swiftly move from place to place. Between the arch and the platform is a really impressive and tall pyramid from an earlier period. You can’t climb it because the stones are really loose and they don’t want people to fall, but it is damn impressive.

Lastly is Uxmal is another great site in which you can see some fabulous architecture with Puuc and Nahua influences. To get here head onto 261 north until you reach Santa Elena and continue northwest. You can’t miss the site. While you are unable climb the Pyramid of the Magician, but you can take a stroll through its other many monumental constructions like the Nunnery. It’s well worth the trip and is the largest of the Puuc sites that you’ll visit.

Day 5

Oxkintok is your first stop and it is not a very large site. To get there, head southwest on 180 from Merida until you reach Maxcanu and then follow the signs. It is famous for having a building dubbed as  Tzat Tun Tzat or ‘Ancient Labyrinth’. There is a ton of information about this site which I encourage you to read about on the Wikipedia page.

Chunchucmil is your second stop today and is directly west from Oxkintok and the town of Maxcanu on Calle 15. There’s not much in the way of restored sites, but I personally like to see buildings in ruin. It’s also near the coast so if you wanted to make a day of visiting a site and lounging on the beach, this would be a great one to do near Merida. 

Day 6

Didn’t we run out of sites? Yes. What are we doing to do today? We’re going to the museum dudes. Located in Merida is a relatively brand new museum called the Gran Museo del Mundo Maya. This museum offers a mixture of artifacts on display coupled with video presentations that explains the history and culture of the ancient Maya. If you aren’t sick and tired of this trip I highly recommend you make this your last stop of your vacation. Enjoy the museum, enjoy Merida, and spend the rest of this day relaxing. Tomorrow you’re going to hop on the highway if you have time or the tollway if you don’t and drive back to Cancun to return to your normal life. Make sure to take lots of pictures to show your friends and family and annoy the heck out of them for years to come.

I’m open to feedback so leave a comment or message me. And if you actually follow this vacation plan we should probably be real life friends.