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Becan, an ancient city-state located in the Mexican state of Campeche, near the geographical center of the Yucatán Peninsula. Occupation dates from about 600 bce to 900 ce. The fortress of Becan, built probably by a classic Maya group about 350 ce, consists of a dry moat nearly 1.5 miles in circumference. The moat originally measured about 52 feet across and 16 feet deep with an earthen parapet on the interior lip of the moat, giving a total height from the bottom of about 45 feet. The seven narrow causeways that led into the fortress were all cut in the fourth century ce, indicating that the city was threatened at that time. This was a general period of warfare among the aristocratic rulers of various city and regional states as they attempted to expand their boundaries and power.

Becan appears to have fallen into a period of disuse after circa 500, another time of general disruption in the Maya lowlands. Between about 650 and 840 the city was revitalized, the moat cleaned out, and many large structures built. These buildings are in the Río Bec and Chenes architectural styles, with large "earth monster" mouth doorways and much serpent symbolism. Corner towers and the famed "false temple towers" of the Río Bec style are typical at Becan as well as at the site of Río Bec itself. Storage rooms, multi-apartment palaces, and reservoirs made the fortified zone highly functional.

The nearby sites of Río Bec, Xpuhil, and Chicanna were contemporary, and in the eighth century the surrounding countryside was packed with people and gridded with stone walls. Over 4,000 square miles of terraced hillsides and nearby wetland gardens in swamps attest to intensive food-production systems. The aristocrats of the Late Classic period in this region appear to have lived mainly on their country estates in small and large palaces.

A generalized feudal system characterized Late Classic social structure here. Warfare must have been a threat, however, considering that Becan was reactivated in the Late Classic period. Raids from Maya states farther to the north occurred at other sites and may have been feared here. In any event, the great collapse of southern Maya civilization was only slightly delayed in the Río Bec region, perhaps for a hundred years. By 1000 even the rural zone was deserted.

See alsoArchaeology .


R. E. W. Adams, "Río Bec Archaeology and the Rise of Maya Civilization," in The Origins of Maya Civilization, edited by R. E. W. Adams (1977), and "Settlement Patterns of the Central Yucatan and Southern Campeche Regions," in Lowland Maya Settlement Patterns, edited by Wendy Ashmore (1981).

Sylvanus Griswold Morley and George W. Brainerd, The Ancient Maya, 4th ed., revised by Robert J. Sharer (1983), pp. 302-304.

Additional Bibliography

Luz Evelia Campana, Nuevas imágenes de Becan, Campeche. In Arqueología mexicana Vol. 10, no. 56 (2002), p. 64-9.

                                          R. E. W. Adams