Some of you might have already heard it: Seven Maya settlements have been discovered in the periphery of Mérida, Yucatán. They’ve been given the names Oxmul, Polok Ceh, Nichak, Cuzam, Chan Much, Tzakan and Chankiuik.
Mérida which was founded in 1542 is nowadays a rapidly growing city, soon to break the 1,000,000 inhabitants mark. It’s a beautiful town with interesting cultural sites, monuments and the oldest cathedral in North America.
Several Maya sites are known in and around Mérida. And there were supposed to be more. Which is why a project had been started by the Instituto Nacional de Antropología e Historia (INAH) of México to discover the hidden sites around Mérida, before the city growth arrives. The biggest of the old settlements known before was a city called T’Hó, also Ichkansihó/Ichcaansihóo. On top of it – and supposedly with it stones – the early Mérida was built. This city was said to be founded by the Itza around 500AD, the tribe, which also founded Chichén Itza, Izamal and Motul. By this means, it would have been rather classic – classic era.
This was always very consistent with the theory that Yucatán was populated late, due to the very harsh and unfriendly natural conditions, like no rivers, dense jungle, and so on. Early urban settlements would have been around in the early classic, 200-400 AD. The recently discovered sites that have been dated however until earliest 400BC. That’s some 600 to 800 years earlier and supports the theory that Yucatán was indeed settled in the preclassic.
This is not a new discovery and less spectacular than it could seem. Dzibilchaltún/Ts’íibil Cháaltun for example shows early settlements from 800BC and strong growth at around 250BC. It is located just 17 kilometers north of Mérida, and therefore the same area. Finding the sites in and around Mérida however is a great success and gives the possibility of deducting more information about the history of the area. In Oxmul alone, 75 skeletons have been found; amongst then pottery of a kind that hadn’t been found before in this area. There’s now a lot of work to do and surely, one will have a closer look at the areas, where Mérida grows in the future.