In Mexico’s Tabasco state is the ancient Maya Aquada Fenix site. Using aerial remote-sensing, also known as LIDAR, University of Arizona archaeologist Takeshi Inomata and his team, discovered the largest and oldest-known structure built by the ancient Maya civilization here – a colossal rectangular elevated platform built between 1,000 and 800 BC. The structure measures nearly a quarter mile or 400 meters wide and 9/10 of a mile or 1,400 meter long! The team published their findings in Nature.
It stood 33 to 50 feet (10 to 15 meters) high. In total volume, it exceeded ancient Egypt’s Great Pyramid of Giza built 1,500 years earlier. Unlike the soaring Maya stone pyramids at cities like Tikal in Guatemala and Palenque that were built some 1,500 years later, this structure was raised of clay and earth, and likely was used for mass rituals. Also, there were no signs of sculptures such as colossal heads and thrones that depicting high-status individuals, suggesting Maya culture at this early stage was more communal and only later developed social inequality and a hierarchical society led by royalty.
Until now, the Mayan site of Ceibal, built in 950 BC, was the oldest confirmed ceremonial center dating back to the Mayan period in South America. This 3,000 year old temple is now the oldest and also largest monument attributed to Mayan culture. This has several implications, first based on the archaeological record, Mayan civilization was thought to grow gradually. It was thought that the Maya during the Middle Pre-classical period of 1,000 to 350 BC were largely composed of small villages and formed pottery and maize cultivation. Secondly, this site appears similar to the Olmec site of San Lorenzo in western Mexican state of Veracruz but without statues dedicated to Olmec rulers. The fact that this monumental building existed earlier than thought and when Maya society had less social inequality challenges us to rethink the construction process those sites went through.