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Chocolá Archaeology: Background and Significance

Archaeologically the region around Chocolá represents the core of the long-believed seminal and—due to a long-standing preferential focus on the lowland Maya by researchers and funding sources—ironically little studied, Southern Maya Zone, where most of the first evidence of Maya writing, kingship, urban entities, and Popol Vuh mythology appears, the latter representing achievements of central importance in Classic Maya civilization.

Early investigators visiting the site included Karl Sapper, Robert Burkitt, Franz Termer, Edwin Shook, and John Graham. Sapper, a pioneering German archaeologist, included Chocolá in a map showing archaeological sites in Guatemala. Burkitt, employed by the museum of the University of Pennsylvania to find and acquire sculpture and other artifacts, excavated three mounds and smuggled many objects, including the great Chocolá Monument 1, out of Guatemala for his sponsor.

Burkitt’s excavations, inadequate if not destructive by today’s standards, baffled him. He could not understand why he found so few ancient objects within the mounds, not realizing the likely answer for this was the earliness of the pyramids’ construction, that is, before substantial amounts of pottery had been broken and discarded in the fill. He also failed to understand earthen architecture, which comprised the earliest forms of construction at the site, and also is characteristic of the greatest ancient city in the southern area, K’aminaljuyu.

Termer, another German pioneer, worked extensively at Palo Gordo, a site approximately 25 k east of Chocolá, in the 1930’s and again in the 1960’s, visiting Chocolá and making observations about Chocolá’s in situ monuments. Shook formally registered the site in 1945 for the Guatemalan Institute of Anthropology and History, describing it as “large” and “important” (cf. Parsons 1986:70, 95), returning to the site several times, collecting sherds from the surface in an attempt to understand Chocolá’s affiliations and chronology and undertaking small excavations.

In the 1970’s, Graham, who directed the first project at the great early Maya site, T’akalik Ab’aj, located 35 k west southwest of Chocolá, similarly visited Chocolá several times and contemplating mounting a project.



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