Projects / Programmes source: ARIS

The Chactn Regional Project: Study of an Archaeological Landscape in the Central Maya Lowlands

Research activity

Code Science Field Subfield
6.02.00  Humanities  Archaeology   

Code Science Field
H340  Humanities  Archaeology 

Code Science Field
6.01  Humanities  History and Archaeology 
Maya archaeology, remote sensing, lidar, landscape archaeology, field surveys
Evaluation (rules)
source: COBISS
Researchers (8)
no. Code Name and surname Research area Role Period No. of publicationsNo. of publications
1.  35010  Nataša Đurić  Geodesy  Researcher  2016 - 2017  30 
2.  25640  PhD Žiga Kokalj  Geography  Researcher  2016 - 2018  369 
3.  28658  PhD Aleš Marsetič  Geodesy  Researcher  2016 - 2017  105 
4.  15112  PhD Krištof Oštir  Geodesy  Researcher  2016  589 
5.  25040  Peter Pehani    Technical associate  2018  97 
6.  36950  Maja Somrak  Computer science and informatics  Technical associate  2017 - 2018  28 
7.  18930  PhD Ivan Šprajc  Archaeology  Head  2016 - 2018  494 
8.  50450  Jasmina Štajdohar  Geography  Researcher  2017 - 2018 
Organisations (2)
no. Code Research organisation City Registration number No. of publicationsNo. of publications
1.  0618  Research Centre of the Slovenian Academy of Sciences and Arts  Ljubljana  5105498000  61,885 
2.  3039  Centre of Excellence for Space Sciences and Technologies  Ljubljana  3665313  744 
This project proposal is motivated by the results of our archaeological surveys carried out in 2013 and 2014 in the eastern part of the Mexican federal state of Campeche: Chactún, Tamchén and Lagunita, three major urban centers that we discovered and documented, are the first field inspected sites within an extensive archaeologically unexplored area in the central part of the Yucatan peninsula; moreover, their sizes, architectural volumes, and the presence of sculpted monuments with hieroglyphic inscriptions and dates attest to their importance in the Late Classic regional political hierarchy, in which Chactún, one of the largest Maya cities known so far in the central lowlands, must have had a particularly prominent place. These facts, as well as a number of unexpected characteristics of the three sites, make the extension of archaeological surveys to their hinterland both promising and highly desirable.   For the area covering about 80 km2 and including the three sites, we intend to obtain detailed information on archaeological remains detectable on surface, employing airborne laser scanning (lidar) and ground truthing. Since the whole study area, lying in the northern sector of the uninhabited Calakmul Biosphere Reserve, is completely overgrown with tropical forest, it is important to stress that lidar, as exemplified by its recent applications in the Maya Lowlands, has proven to be the most rewarding and cost-effective remote sensing technique for detecting anthropogenic landscape modifications in areas with dense vegetation cover. An additional advantage in our case is that the raw lidar data will be processed by ourselves, having in mind specific research needs and environmental peculiarities: while the project leader is a specialist in Maya archaeology, having directed nine seasons of archaeological reconnaissance in southeastern Campeche, other members of the research team are experts in lidar data processing and Geographic Information Systems (GIS); one of their important and internationally acclaimed achievements is precisely the development of novel methods of lidar data filtering and visualization, particularly suitable for recognizing and interpreting archaeological features in forested areas. Also evident are the advantages of the landscape approach to be applied in the study. Analyses and interpretations of lidar-derived data complemented with those obtained through field verifications will enable us to determine the extents of settlements and the distribution and characteristics of other types of anthropogenic elements, and to search for correlations with environmental particularities. Based on the results of spatial analyses, and considering all the available contextual evidence, including chronological indicators, we intend to reconstruct the development of cultural landscape and to solve questions concerning settlement hierarchy, socio-political organization, agricultural land use, water management, communication routes, the impact of environmental factors on the selection of localities for settlement and other uses, and the role of religious ideas in the conceptualization of the natural and built environment and the formation of cultural landscape.   Adding particular interest to the proposed study area is its location within a vast archaeologically unsurveyed territory, extending over some 3000 km2 and making our understanding of the Maya culture seriously deficient, as illustrated by the unexplained peculiarities of Chactún, Tamchén and Lagunita. The results of our research, completing the archaeological picture of the study area and allowing a comparison with neighboring regions, are thus expected to shed light on a number of issues of broader relevance to Maya archaeology, including the dynamics of regional interaction and political geography, and the processes involved in the Preclassic rise, the Classic florescence and the subsequent decline of the central and southern lowland polities.
Significance for science
Although the potential of lidar has been clearly revealed by its application in some recently accomplished archaeological projects in the Maya Lowlands, the results of our research will further exemplify its utility, particularly because we will employ advanced methods of point cloud filtering and data visualization, which have been developed by the project team members and are particularly suitable for detecting archaeological vestiges under dense vegetation cover. From the technical point of view, we thus expect to obtain original results, which will have broader implications for assessing the efficacy of our methods in this type of environments.   Concerning specific problems of Maya archaeology, the significance of the research can be substantiated, on the one hand, in terms of the advantages offered by a comprehensive study of archaeological landscape in a wider area. Although Chactún, Tamchén and Lagunita, three major urban centers recorded in our recent surveys, add significant interest to this region, our emphasis will now be on “off-site” approach, whose potential has been exemplified in a number of studies. The results of lidar scanning, ground truthing and spatial analyses of data distribution will allow us to determine the extents and characteristics of settlements, which will shed light on their socio-political organization and role in regional hierarchy, and to solve questions concerning agricultural land use, water management, communication routes, and the extent of impact of environmental factors on the selection of localities for settlement, agricultural exploitation and ritual use, as well the role of religious concepts in the formation of cultural landscape.   Another significant circumstance, making the expected results of our research of broader relevance to Maya archaeology, is the location of the study area within an extensive archaeologically unsurveyed region. Since this is the very heartland of the territory once occupied by the Maya, our understanding of many aspects of their culture remains sorely deficient. Surprisingly, Chactún, Tamchén and Lagunita present several peculiarities previously unknown from any other Maya site, as well as characteristics linking them to the Petén tradition, widely spread over the Yucatán lowlands, much more than to the neighboring Chenes and Río Bec regions. Also interesting are reused monuments and Postclassic offerings found at the three sites, reflecting activities even in the centuries after their Late Classic apogee. The results of our research, completing the archaeological picture of the study area and allowing a comparison with neighboring regions, will thus contribute to the solution of a number of important questions concerning cultural history, territorial relations, political geography, and social processes taking place in the still enigmatic Terminal Classic period and, ultimately, resulting in the collapse of the great majority of states in the central and southern lowlands.
Significance for the country
The socio-economic and cultural relevance of this project, to be carried out in the northern section of the Calakmul Biosphere Reserve, in eastern Campeche, Mexico, can best be illustrated by the impact of our formerly accomplished research. In June 2014 the southern section of the Calakmul Biosphere, extending over 3314 km2, was inscribed in the UNESCO World Heritage list as a mixed natural and cultural property. By invitation of the Department of World Heritage of the Mexican National Institute of Anthropology and History (INAH), the project leader collaborated in the preparation of the proposal: the vast majority of archaeological sites that served for substantiating the outstanding cultural value of the proposed area were discovered during the surveys he has directed since 1996 (http://whc.unesco.org/en/decisions/6102).   On the other hand, the archaeological site of Calakmul, located in the heart of the southern part of the Biosphere and open to the public, is an increasingly important tourist attraction, both for its monumentality and for its setting: the remains of one of the largest Maya cities, largely still overgrown with lush tropical forest, lie in the middle of the uninhabited natural reserve characterized by its immense biodiversity, as well as by the high density of archaeological sites, including some of the most important Preclassic and Classic Maya urban centers with elaborate architecture, sculpted monuments and other vestiges of both scientific and outstanding artistic value. Having undergone extensive excavation and restoration works, Calakmul is so far the only Maya site in the Biosphere that has been opened to visitors. As a result of our surveys, however, intensive archaeological projects are already in progress at Oxpemul, Uxul and Yaxnohcah, on the part of Mexican, German and Canadian research teams; it is thus to be expected that these sites will, eventually, also be open for tourism. Regarding the area proposed for research, specifically, it can be added that our discoveries of Chactún, Lagunita and Tamchén had a worldwide appeal, revealed by a multitude of web posts and journal articles, as well as by the fact that the latter two sites were listed among the top 10 archaeological discoveries of 2014 (http://www.ancient-origins.net/news-general/top-ten-archaeological-discoveries-2014-002497), and that, in late 2014, the project leader was nominated by the newspaper Delo as a candidate for person of the year (http://www.delo.si/novice/delovaosebnost/kandidat-za-delovo-osebnost-leta-2014-dr-ivan-sprajc.html).   In the light of the above mentioned facts, the results of the proposed project can be expected to be directly relevant to the policies of natural and cultural resource management, as well as to strategies and efforts aimed at a sustainable development of tourism and related activities in the area.
Most important scientific results Interim report, final report
Most important socioeconomically and culturally relevant results Interim report, final report
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