Tikal Adventure Tours
The name “Tikal” means “Place of Voices” or “Place of Tongues” in Maya, which may be an ancient name for the city, although the ancient hieroglyphs usually refer to it as Mutal or Yax Mutal, meaning “Green Bundle,” and perhaps metaphorically “First Prophecy.”
After a defeat at the hands of Dos Pilas, Tikal entered in a decline period known as “the Hiatus,” until Jasaw Chan K’awiil defeated in successive battles Dos Pilas, Calakmul, Waka’, and Caracol, returning the supremacy of the Classic Mayan world to Tikal.
Scholars estimate that at its peak its population was between 100,000 and 200,000.
Tikal was forgotten until 1848, when an expedition led by Modesto Méndez and Ambrosio Tut rediscovered the site and brought it to the world’s attention.
The site presents hundreds of significant ancient buildings, only a fraction of which have been excavated in the decades of archaeological work.
The most prominent surviving buildings include six very large Mesoamerican step pyramids supporting temples on their tops. They were numbered sequentially by early surveys of the site. They were built during the city’s height from the late 7th and early 9th century. Temple I (also known as the Temple of Ah Cacau or Temple of the Great Jaguar) was built around 695. Temple II, or the Moon Temple, was constructed in 702, and Temple III was built in 810. The largest of the group, Temple IV, or the Bichepalous Serpent Temple, some 72 meters (230 feet) high, was dedicated in 720. Temple V is dated to 750 and is the only one where no tomb has been found. Temple VI was dedicated in 766.
The ancient city also has the remains of royal palaces, in addition to a number of smaller pyramids, palaces, residences, and inscribed stone monuments. There is even a building which seemed to have been a jail, originally with wooden bars across the windows and doors. There are also seven courts for playing the Mesoamerican ballgame.
The residential area of Tikal covers an estimated 60 square km (23 square miles), much of which has not yet been cleared or excavated.
Some of the pyramids of Tikal are over 60 meters high (200 feet).
As is often the case with huge ancient ruins, knowledge of the site was never completely lost in the region. Some second- or third-hand accounts of Tikal appeared in print starting in the 17th century, continuing through the writings of John Lloyd Stephens in the early 19th century. Due to the site’s remoteness from modern towns, however, no scientific expedition visited Tikal until 1848. Several other expeditions came to further investigate, map, and photograph Tikal in the 19th and early 20th century.
In 1951 a small airstrip was built at the ruins, which previously could only be reached by several days travel through the jungle on foot or mule. From 1956 through 1970 major archeological excavations were made by the University of Pennsylvania. In 1979 the Guatemalan government began a further archeological project at Tikal, which continues to this day.