Kaminaljuyu Guatemamala (pronounced kah-mee-nahl-hoo-yoo) is a Pre-Columbian site of the Maya civilization that was primarily occupied from 1500BC to 1200AD.
Kaminaljuyu has been described as one of the greatest of all archaeological sites in the New World by Michael Coe, although its remains today – a few mounds only – are far less impressive than other Maya sites more frequented by tourists. When first mapped scientifically (by E. M. Shook over a period of decades from the 1930s on), it comprised some 200 platforms and pyramidal mounds, at least half of which were created before the end of the Preclassic period (AD 250).
The known parts of Kaminaljuyu lie on a broad plain beneath roughly the western third of modern Guatemala City. The Valley of Guatemala is surrounded by hills which culminate in a string of lofty volcanoes to the south. At an altitude of ca. 7,000 feet above sea level, the climate is temperate. Soils are rich because of frequent volcanic eruptions; volcanic ash in the form of hardened tuff reaches depths of several hundred meters in and around Kaminaljuyu, and deep clefts or barrancas mark the landscape.
The Kaminaljuyu site largely was swallowed up by real estate developments in the late 20th century, although a portion of the Classic period center of Kaminaljuyu is preserved as a park. The distinctly unimpressive character of the extant remains is due not only to the location of the ancient city beneath a rapidly expanding Developing World capital city but also because the ancient architecture was constructed of hardened adobe, more perishable than the limestone used to build the cities in the Maya Lowlands. Because of these factors, the true size and scale of Kaminaljuyu likely will never be known.
The state of destruction and the almost daily erasure of archaeological context underscore the many mysteries, in addition to size and scale, that likely will remain unanswered about Kaminaljuyu. Principally these questions are posed about the role of the city as the greatest of the Southern Maya area (SMA) in Preclassic times – particularly during the “Miraflores” period, ca. 400-100 BC; the SMA is long believed from much and diverse evidence to have been seminal in the development of Maya civilization.
Archaeology at Kaminaljuyu
Excavations at Kaminaljuyu were first carried out by Manual Gamio in 1925. A.V. Kidder and E.M Shook excavated for the Carnegie Institute between 1935 and 1953. In the 1970s, W.T. Sanders and J. Michels worked at the site. Since that time, INAH has conducted several salvage operations under their maintenance of the site’s vicinity.