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Architecture, Restoration, and Imaging
of the Maya Cities of
The Puuc Region, Yucatán, México

The Yucatán

The word “Yucatán” is used in two slightly different ways. As a geographical area, the Yucatán is a large peninsula jutting north from southeast Mexico, between the Gulf of Mexico and the Caribbean Sea. As a political entity, the Yucatán is a state of modern Mexico, occupying the northern portion of the Yucatán Peninsula. When used as a noun, the term “Yucatec” refers to the Mayan language of the northern Maya lowlands.

The physical conditions of the northern Yucatán are significantly different from those of other Maya areas and have helped to determine the character of the region’s architecture and society. The land is almost uniformly flat (the Puuc region a slight exception), with shallow topsoil and dense, relatively dry, scrub vegetation. Beneath this shallow soil, sometimes even on the surface, is a vast porous limestone plane. This allows rain water is pass through, even in the intense summer rainy season, without forming rivers or lakes. However, there are a few ponds or small lakes, natural depressions with clay bottoms, aguadas, that can be sealed further to retain the accumulated rainwater from the rainy season. Also, there are two types of natural formations that permit access to water below. The first of these are sinkholes in the surface limestone, deep wells, cenotes. There are also a few deep caves, grutas, permitting extremely difficult access to the water far below. There is very little rainfall during the long winter dry season. Thus, one of the most distinguishing characteristics of the Yucatán is the challenge of providing water for large numbers of people and their crops.

Although the limestone made water retention difficult, it also provided a ready source of building material. The lack of aggressive jungles and rain forests, characteristic of the southern Maya of Guatamala, Hondurus, and southern Mexico, has resulted in much more extensive survival of Maya ruins in the Yucatán and has meant that, unlike the southern Maya cities, the existence of a few of the ruins in the Yucatán continued to be known by local inhabitants and therefore were not redicovered by Spanish invaders or Euro-American explorers. The relative physical isolation of the Yucatán peninsula also created a degree of cultural separation for the Yucatec Maya, facilitating the development of their unique, world-class architecture.

The capital of the state of Yucatán is Mérida, where a number of major archaeological institutions are located. The Centro Yucatán of Mexico’s Instituto Nacional de Antropologia e Historia (INAH) is responsible for all archaeological sites in the Yucatán. The Facultad de Ciencias Antropologicas of the Universidad Autónoma de Yucatán (UADY) provides many of the experts for the INAH and training for leading archaeologists. The Museo Regional de Arqueología de Yucatán Palacio Cantón, the museum of anthropology and archaeology, houses and displays material from archaeological sites in the Yucatán and mounts related exhibitions. 

This web site is heavily dependent on many outstanding publications on the Yucatán, listed in the annotated bibliography for this web site.

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