Mayapan (Màayapáan in Modern Maya), (in Spanish Mayapán) is a Pre-Columbian Maya site a couple of kilometers south of the town of Telchaquillo in Municipality of Tecoh, approximately 40 km south-east of Mérida and 100 km west of Chichen Itza; in the state of Yucatán, Mexico. Mayapan was the political and cultural capital of the Maya in the Yucatán Peninsula during the Late Post-Classic period from the 1220s until the 1440s.

Mayapan is 4.2 square kilometers and has over 4000 structures most of them residences, are packed into this compound within the city walls, while built-up areas extend a half kilometer beyond the city walls in all directions. The stone perimeter wall has twelve gates, including seven major gates with vaulted entrances. The wall is 9.1 km long and is roughly ovate with a pointed northeast corner. The ceremonial center of the site is located in Square Q of the city's grid in the center of the wider western half of the walled enclosure. The ceremonial center has a tightly packed cluster of temples, colonnaded halls, oratories, shrines, sanctuaries, altars, and platforms (for oration, dancing, or stela display). Carnegie archaeologist A.L. Smith estimated 10-12,000 people lived within the walled parameter. A survey conducted outside of the city wall by Dr. Bradley Russell documented additional dwellings and revised the total population estimate to between 15,000-17,000 people. His survey results are posted online at People living outside of the city wall engaged in agriculture, animal-raising, and specialized activities such as lime production. Russell also found a colonnaded hall outside of the city wall, revealing that there remains much to be discovered regarding the complexity of this urban landscape.

The Temple of Kukulcan is the main temple in Mayapan. It is located immediately to the east of the Cenote Ch'en Mul, which has caves radiating from it. In form, the Temple of Kukulcan (Structure Q-162 on the site map) is a radial four-staircase temple with nine terraces that is generally similar to the Temple of Kukulcan at the earlier site of Chichen Itza. There are a number of other major temples in the ceremonial center including three round ones, which are unusual for the Maya area and are also linked to the deity Kukulkan/Quetzalcoatl in his wind god (Ehecatl) aspect. Unlike Chichen Itza, Mayapan has no ballcourts.

The extensive residential zones of the site are composed of dwellings and ancillary domestic structures. The houses are often arranged in small patio groups surrounding small courtyards. There are many cenotes, perhaps as many as 40, in the residential areas of the site, and settlement is the most dense in the southwestern part of the city where cenotes are more numerous.

The ethnohistorical sources - such as Diego de Landa's Relacion de las Cosas de Yucatan, compiled from native sources in the 16th century - tell us the site was founded by Kukulcan (the Maya name of Quetzalcoatl, the Toltec king, culture hero, and demigod) after the fall of Chichen Itza. He convened the lords of the region, who agreed to found a new capital at Mayapan. The lords then divided the towns of Yucatán among them, and chose the chief of the Cocom family as their leader.

The ethnohistorical sources recount multiple different histories of the rise and fall of Mayapan (Roys 1962). These histories are often confusing, chronologically implausible, and difficult to reconcile. For example, some sources say that the Maya revolted in 1221 against the Maya-Toltec lords of Chichen Itza. After a short civil war the lords of various powerful cities and families met to restore a central government to Yucatán. A decision was made to build a new capital city near the town of Telchaquillo, hometown of Hunac Ceel, the general who defeated the rulers of Chichen Itza. The new city was built within a defensive wall and named "Mayapan", meaning "Standard of the Maya people".

The chief of the Cocom family, a rich and ancient lineage that had taken part in the revolt against Chichen, was chosen to be king, but all the other noble families and regional lords were to send members of their families to Mayapan to play parts in the government. This arrangement lasted for over 200 years. (An alternative account is given in a Maya chronicle from the Colonial era, claiming that Mayapan was contemporary with Chichen and Uxmal and in alliance with those cities, but archeological evidence shows this version to be less likely.)

In 1441, Ah Xupan of the powerful noble family of Xiu became resentful of the political machinations of the Cocom rulers and organized a revolt. At the end of this most of the Cocom family were killed, Mayapan was sacked, burned, and abandoned, and Yucatán fell apart into warring city states.

Mayapan: Picture taken from "El Castillo" or "Kukulcan Temple"

Archaeological evidence indicates that at least the ceremonial center was burned at the end of the occupation. Excavation has revealed burnt roof beams in several of the major buildings in the site center.

Five years of intensive archeological investigations at Mayapan were conducted by the archaeologists of the Carnegie Institution in the 1950s, including A. L. Smith, Robert Smith, Tatiana Proskouriakoff, Edwin Shook, Karl Ruppert and J. Eric Thompson. Their work was published in a mimeographed series of Current Reports. The Current Reports have recently been republished in their entirety by the University of Colorado Press (John Weeks 2009). The final report was published by the Carnegie Institution as Mayapan, Yucatan, Mexico, by H. E. D. Pollock, Ralph L. Roys, A. L. Smith, and Tatiana Proskouriakoff (1962, Publication 619). Robert Smith also published a two-volume monograph on "The Pottery of Mayapan" in 1971 (Papers of the Peabody Museum of Archaeology and Ethnology 66, Harvard University).

In the early 1990s, Clifford T. Brown of Tulane University carried out excavations in the residential zones of Mayapan as part of his doctoral dissertation research. Several years later, the National Institute of Anthropology and History (INAH) began extensive architectural excavations and consolidation under the direction of archaeologist Carlos Peraza Lope. This work continues to the present and has resulted in the exposure and discovery of many important artifacts, murals, stuccoes, and architectural elements.

From 2001-2009, further investigations were begun at the site under the direction of Dr. Marilyn Masson from the State University New York at Albany, Carlos Peraza Lope of INAH, and Timothy S. Hare of Morehead State University. This "Economic Foundations of Mayapan" (PEMY) Project performed mapping, surface survey and collection, test-pitting, and horizontal excavation across the city. Major findings of this project include the identification of diverse occupational specialization among the city's commoners who worked as craftspersons, conscripted military personnel, farmers, and domestic servants. Great variation is now recognized in the types of work performed by commoners of different households and their degree of affluence. This project has also identified a probable major market plaza in Square K (between the site center and major north gate D); Richard Terry, Bruce Dahlin, and Daniel Bair have analyzed soil samples from this location to test the function of this locality. In 2008 and 2009, the PEMY project focused excavations on an outlying ceremonial group by the far eastern city gate (Gate H), known as Itzmal Ch'en, as part of its quest to study the economic and social links between governing elites and distant neighborhoods within the city.


  • Barrera Rubio, Alfredo and Carlos Peraza Lope

2001 La Pintura Mural de Mayapán. In La Pintura Mural Prehispánica en México: Área Maya, edited by Leticia Staines Cicero, Beatriz de la Fuentes, project director, pp. 419–446. Instituto de Investigaciones Estéticas, Universidad Autónoma de México, México, D.F.

  • Brown, Clifford T. (1999) Mayapán Society and Ancient Maya Social Organization. Ph.D. dissertation, Dept. of Anthropology, Tulane University.
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2009 La Pintura Mural de Mayapán, Yucatán: Una Interpretación Iconográfica. Tesis profesional, Facultad de Ciencias Antropológicas, Universidad Autnoma de Yucatán, Mérida, Yucatán, México.

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2004 Estudio de la Arquitectura Pública del Núcleo Principal de Mayapán, Yucatán. Tesis profesional, Facultad de Ciencias Antropológicas, Universidad Autnoma de Yucatán, Mérida, Yucatán, México.

  • Landa, Diego de

1941 Relaciones de las Cosas de Yucatán. Translated by Alfred Tozzer. Papers of the Peabody Museum of Archaeology and Ethnology 18. Harvard University Press, Cambridge.

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2009 Appendix: Inventory and Lot Descriptions from Carnegie Institution Current Reports on Mayapan. In The Carnegie Maya II: Carnegie Institution of Washington Current Reports, 1952–1957, edited by John Weeks, pp. 553–609. University of Colorado Press, Boulder.

  • Marilyn A. Masson, Timothy S. Hare, and Carlos Peraza Lope

2006 Postclassic Maya Society Regenerated at Mayapán. In After Collapse: The Regeneration of Complex Societies, edited by Glenn M. Schwartz and John J. Nichols, pp. 188–207. University of Arizona Press, Tucson.

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2007 Kukulkan/Quetzalcoat, Death God, and Creation Mythology of Burial Shaft Temples at Mayapan. Mexicon 29:77-85.

  • Masson, Marilyn A. and Carlos Peraza Lope

2005 Nuevas Investigaciones en Tres Unidades Residenciales Fuera del Area Monumental de Mayapán. In Investigadores de La Cultura Maya, Tomo II, pp. 411–424. Universidad Autónoma de Campeche. Campeche, Mexico.

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2008 Animal Use at Mayapan. Quaternary International. 191:170-183.

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2010 Evidence for Maya-Mexican Interaction in the Archaeological Record of Mayapan. In Astronomers, Scribes, and Priests: Intellectual Interchange between the Northern Maya Lowlands and Highland Mexico in the Late Postclassic Period, edited by Gabrielle Vail and Christine Hernandez, pp. 77–114. Dumbarton Oaks, Washington, D.C.

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2003 Revisting Mayapan: Mexico’s Last Maya Capital. Ancient Mesoamerica 14:1-47.

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2003b Mayapán’s Scribe: A Link with Classic Maya Artists. Mexicon XXV:120-123.

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2010 Religious Imagery in Mayapan’s Murals. The PARI Journal X:1-10.

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2008 Metallurgy, Mayapan and the Postclassic World System. Ancient Mesoamerica 19:43-66.

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1998 Mayapán: Ciudad-capital del Postclasico. Arqueología Mexicana :48-53.

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  • Pugh, Timothy

2001 Flood Reptiles, Serpent Temples and the Quadripartite Universe: The Imajo Mundi of Late Postclassic Mayapán. Ancient Mesoamerica 12:247-258.

  • Restall, Matthew

2001 The People of the Patio: Ethnohistoric Evidence of Yucatec Maya Royal Courts. In Royal Courts of the Maya, Volume II, edited by Takeshi Inomata y Stephen D. Houston, pp. 335–390. Westview Press, Boulder.

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2001 Post-Classic and Terminal Classic Courts of the Northern Maya Lowlands. En Royal Courts of the Maya, Volume Two: Data and Case Studies, edited by Takeshi Inomata and Stephen D. Houston, pp. 266–307. Westview Press, Boulder.

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1962 Literary Sources for the History of Mayapan. In Mayapan, Yucatán, Mexico. Carnegie Institute of Washington Publication No. 619, by Harry E.D. Pollock, Ralph L. Roys, Tatiana Proskouriakoff, and A.L. Smith, pp. 25–86. Washington, D.C.

  • Russell, Bradley W. and Bruce H. Dahlin

2007 Traditional Burnt-Lime Production at Mayapán, Mexico. Journal of Field Archaeology 32:407-423.

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2010 Bioarchaeological Investigation of Violence at Mayapan. Ph.D. dissertation, Department of Anthropology, Tulane University.

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1971 The Pottery of Mayapan. Papers of the Peabody Museum of Archaeology and Ethnology 66. Harvard University, Cambridge.

Panoramic view from Kukulcan temple

External links

Coordinates: 20°37′46″N 89°27′38″W / 20.62944°N 89.46056°W / 20.62944; -89.46056

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