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Zacpeten is a pre-Columbian
The pre-Columbian era incorporates all period subdivisions in the history and prehistory of the Americas before the appearance of significant European influences on the American continents, spanning the time of the original settlement in the Upper Paleolithic period to European colonization during...

Maya civilization
The Maya is a Mesoamerican civilization, noted for the only known fully developed written language of the pre-Columbian Americas, as well as for its art, architecture, and mathematical and astronomical systems. Initially established during the Pre-Classic period The Maya is a Mesoamerican...

 archaeological site
Archaeological site
An archaeological site is a place in which evidence of past activity is preserved , and which has been, or may be, investigated using the discipline of archaeology and represents a part of the archaeological record.Beyond this, the definition and geographical extent of a 'site' can vary widely,...

 in Petén Department, northern Guatemala
Guatemala is a country in Central America bordered by Mexico to the north and west, the Pacific Ocean to the southwest, Belize to the northeast, the Caribbean to the east, and Honduras and El Salvador to the southeast...

. It is notable as one of the few Maya communities
The term community has two distinct meanings:*a group of interacting people, possibly living in close proximity, and often refers to a group that shares some common values, and is attributed with social cohesion within a shared geographical location, generally in social units larger than a household...

 that maintained their independence through the early phases of Spanish control
Spanish conquest of Mexico
The Spanish conquest of the Aztec Empire was one of the most important campaigns in the Spanish colonization of the Americas. The invasion began in February 1519 and was acclaimed victorious on August 13, 1521, by a coalition army of Spanish conquistadors and Tlaxcalan warriors led by Hernán Cortés...

 over Mesoamerica
Mesoamerica is a region and culture area in the Americas, extending approximately from central Mexico to Belize, Guatemala, El Salvador, Honduras, Nicaragua, and Costa Rica, within which a number of pre-Columbian societies flourished before the Spanish colonization of the Americas in the 15th and...



The site of Zacpeten occupies a peninsula on Lake Salpeten in Peten in Northern Guatemala.It has been sporadically inhabited by Mayan peoples since the initial settlement during the Middle Preclassic
Mesoamerican chronology
Mesoamerican chronology divides the history of pre-Columbian Mesoamerica into several periods: the Paleo-Indian , the Archaic , the Preclassic , the Classic , and the Postclassic...

 (1000 – 300 BC). After abandonment during Late Preclassic and Early Classic, the site was resettled from the Late to Terminal Classic (A.D. 600 – 950). Abandoned again, it was reoccupied in the Late Postclassic by the Mayan peoples who survived the unexplained 10th century collapse of Classic Mayan Civilisation and migrated from Mayapan in Yucatán after the collapse of this city in the fifteenth century. These people, the Ko'woj
The Ko'woj were a Maya group and polity, from the Late Postclassic period of Mesoamerican chronology. The Ko'woj claimed to have migrated from Mayapan sometime after the city's collapse in 1441 AD...

Maya peoples
The Maya people constitute a diverse range of the Native American people of southern Mexico and northern Central America. The overarching term "Maya" is a collective designation to include the peoples of the region who share some degree of cultural and linguistic heritage; however, the term...

, brought their distinctive pottery and constructed typical Mayapan temple assemblages with a raised shrine lying at a right angle to a western facing temple rather than facing it,a very different pattern to ceremonial architecture outside central Peten. This civilisation flourished and remained independent of Spanish domination
Spanish conquest of Guatemala
The Spanish conquest of Guatemala was a conflict that formed a part of the Spanish colonization of the Americas within the territory of what became the modern country of Guatemala in Central America...

 until late into the 17th century, usually recorded as 1697.

Site description

Several archaeological investigations have emphasised the similarity to the site of Mayapan.The site has been designated into 6 alphabetical areas.Groups A,B and C are dominated by ceremonial buildings.Groups D,E and F are residential groups.The main Zacpeten settlement has a defensive wall with 2 parapets and a moat located at the northern end of the peninsula where it meets the mainland.The ceremonial and 2 residential sites are located on the peninsula but Group F is located on the mainland.

Group A is the site’s central architectural
Architecture is both the process and product of planning, designing and construction. Architectural works, in the material form of buildings, are often perceived as cultural and political symbols and as works of art...

 complex and the focal point of the civic-ceremonial core of the site. The group contains two open halls and a small sakbe that bisects the plaza and separates the two halls.

Group B includes a Late to Terminal Classic ceremonial group that was later reused by the Postclassic occupants of Zacpeten. Inscriptions on the monument
A monument is a type of structure either explicitly created to commemorate a person or important event or which has become important to a social group as a part of their remembrance of historic times or cultural heritage, or simply as an example of historic architecture...

s and the layout and inscriptions on the monuments of Group B suggest Late Classic ties with Tikal
Tikal is one of the largest archaeological sites and urban centres of the pre-Columbian Maya civilization. It is located in the archaeological region of the Petén Basin in what is now northern Guatemala...

, a regional center located 25 km north of Zacpeten. Group F is a residential group to the north of the defensive system on the mainland and may also date to the Terminal Classic period.

Zacpeten's Late Postclassic period occupation is concentrated in four of the five groups on the peninsula. Groups D and E are residential groups while Groups A and C are dominated by ceremonial buildings grouped in the Ko’woj style. This style consists of a temple
A temple is a structure reserved for religious or spiritual activities, such as prayer and sacrifice, or analogous rites. A templum constituted a sacred precinct as defined by a priest, or augur. It has the same root as the word "template," a plan in preparation of the building that was marked out...

 assemblage with raised shrine
A shrine is a holy or sacred place, which is dedicated to a specific deity, ancestor, hero, martyr, saint, daemon or similar figure of awe and respect, at which they are venerated or worshipped. Shrines often contain idols, relics, or other such objects associated with the figure being venerated....

s that lie a right angles to a western facing temple rather than facing into it. This specific variant appears at central Petén Basin
Petén Basin
The Petén Basin is a geographical subregion of Mesoamerica, located in the northern portion of the modern-day nation of Guatemala, and essentially contained within the department of El Petén...

 sites including Topoxte
Topoxte is a pre-Columbian Maya archaeological site in the Petén Basin in northern Guatemala with a long occupational history dating as far back as the Middle Preclassic. As the capital of the Ko’woj Maya, it was the largest of the few Postclassic Mesoamerican sites in the area...

 and Muralla de Leon.

Ceremonial architecture outside the Zacpeten area follows a very different pattern. For example, Late Postclassic Itzá
The Itza are a Guatemalan ethnic group of Maya affiliation speaking the Itza' language. They inhabit the Petén department of Guatemala in and around the city of Flores on the Lake Petén Itzá.- Numbers of ethnic group members and Itza speakers :...

ceremonial groups do not appear to include formal temples. The residences at Zacpeten are tandem-shaped structures standing in patio groups. Tandem residences include a front room and back room and the former has a plastered and occasionally painted surface while the latter has an earthen floor. Household production activities are concentrated in the back room, while socializing and ritual performances were focused upon the front room.