efe-epaGuatemala City

The "La Blanca" project, launched in 2004 with the aim of carrying out archaeological investigations, adding value to Guatemala's cultural heritage and contributing to the community's economic and social development, has enabled archaeologists to uncover an urban Maya settlement that was a trade center.

"This urban settlement, we say, controlled all this trade, all this trade network going along the rivers, that come from Belize and come to the Maya mountains. Via what were routes ... between the highlands and the lowlands all kinds of goods circulated ... and also ideas and ideologies were transmitted," Cristina Vidal told EFE.

Vidal, a lecturer in the Art History Department at Spain's Universidad de Valencia and scientific director of the project, said that these finds, after 15 years of work, have confirmed the initial hypothesis, which said that the founding of La Blanca came about because it was in the strategic Mopan River valley very close to the Salsipuedes River, in what is today Guatemala's northern Peten province.

The settlement, which features "exceptional" palace architecture of high quality and with "huge" buildings, was during that epoch "a control center" as can be seen in the structures, the reliefs, the mural paintings, the jars, the ceramics, the polychrome vases, the ceramic figures and other archaeological materials that are helping scientists "reconstruct the past of the inhabitants who lived here."

Vidal noted that in the graffiti on the walls of the center scenes are depicted that show that the site was "important" and was affiliated with another as-yet-unknown, but even larger, site - although it could be Nakum, due to the type of architecture.

She said that there are animal remains at the site that enable scientists to conclude that "very interesting" rituals and banquets were held in the palaces.

Starting in 2004, experts have dug at the site for 15 seasons during which they have excavated extensively in the main urban spaces of this Maya city, the heyday of which was the Late Classic and End periods up to about the year 900.

In fact, from the latter part of this epoch archaeologists have found significant evidence dating to the point at which the site was abandoned, an event that coincided with the so-called "collapse" of the classical Maya civilization in the early 10th century.

One of the areas that has been uncovered is the city's monumental Acropolis, with its palaces that rival in size and architectural quality the capitals of the great Maya kingdoms such as Tikal and Naranjo.

In fact, the widest arch found to date in the zone, spanning more than four meters (13 feet) was found at the Eastern Palace at La Blanca, and it provides an idea of the solemn nature of the ceremonies and celebrations carried out here, according to Gaspar Muñoz, a professor at the Universidad Politecnica de Valencia School of Architecture and the director of restoration and conservation at La Blanca.

"They made megalithic structures. It's something symbolic, monumental, and it's one of the secrets of La Blanca. At a relatively small site, with trade control and river routes ... but that acropolis was a very important building made by very expert builders who surely came from other places," he said, noting that the plaza has space for some 20,000 people.

Inside the base of the acropolis are hidden substructures from an earlier epoch which (include) vaulted (spaces) and mural paintings, as well as some sculpted friezes over which those ancient buildings and pyramidal temples were erected.

In the post-Classic period after 950, the site continued to be visited sporadically by people to leave offerings at the abandoned buildings, which deserve "special conservation," given that La Blanca still has a number of associated enigmas.

The La Blanca project, which in 2013 received the Best Practices in Site Preservation award from the Archaeological Institute of America, has used new technologies such as laser measurements and the creation of high-quality 3D models in excavation, restoration and adding value to the architecture, the dean of the Universidad Politecnica de Valencia, Francisco Mora Mas, said.

The project, which has been carried out with support from the Guatemalan government, has also been financed since its start by the Spanish government, the Universidad de Valencia and the Universidad Politecnica de Valencia, to the tune of more than $1.12 million.