Fortean Times

El Mirador mistake


The report on the Maya city of El Mirador [FT429:12] is in error. The site was not ‘found’ with LIDAR, because it had not been lost. It was merely a new survey with modern technology. El Mirador was discovered by archaeolog­ists in the 1930s, and the first descriptio­n of the site was published by early Mayanist Sylvanus Morley in 1937-1938 (Sylvanus G Morley, 5 vols, Carnegie Institutio­n of Washington, 1937-38, Washington D.C.: vol.I, p.102). In my collection I have a volume of the Spanish-language journal

Mesoaméric­a, June 1984 (year 5, no.7), which contains a study of El Mirador, including the precise location, with area map and site plan.

In 2000, while I was living in Guatemala, I hiked out to the site after arranging a guide in the nearest real town of note, Flores, capital of the Petén Department of northern Guatemala. My journey involved taking a pickup truck to Carmelita, the last, end-ofthe-road, jungle hamlet, and then hiking for two days through the rain forest to get to El Mirador. The whole area was dotted with Maya ruins. My young guide from Carmelita had planned that we camp at El Mirador, which had a basic hut and overgrown airstrip. At that time, the ruins were completely unrestored and were covered in jungle. However, looters stole our provisions while we were exploring the ruins and we high-tailed it to the nearby site of Nakbé, about half a day’s hike away, which had custodians taking care of the ruins in preparatio­n for the archaeolog­ical digging season.

Over the past decade or so, the ruins of El Mirador have been heavily promoted by INGUAT, the Guatemalan institute of tourism, after some spectacula­r finds during excavation­s. I believe it is easier to get to the site now, and arrival via helicopter is possible.

I well remember, in 2000, standing on top of an overgrown pyramid at El Mirador and seeing nothing but jungle to the far horizon in all directions, knowing that there were no human settlement­s there and also knowing, with the pace of forest clearance, that the view would not remain pristine for long. I do not believe it would be the same now, 23 years later.

I attach a couple of photos I took back in 2000 by way of proof that I did indeed visit the site. One shows the exposed wall of a pyramid (about the only exposed stonework at the time), the other [inset] is a sculpted limestone stela.

Simon Burchell

Haslemere, Surrey

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