Dos Pilas

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Dos Pilas

Dos Pilas, an important archaeological site of the Maya civilization located in the Petexbatún region of the Petén rain forest of Guatemala. Archaeological and epigraphic research has shown that Dos Pilas was the capital of a Classic Maya state remarkable for its late and rapid trajectory of florescence, expansion, and violent collapse.

The major occupation at the site began in the seventh century, when outcast members of the royal family of the great city of Tikal arrived at Dos Pilas and rapidly constructed the site center. From this new base, the first rulers concentrated their political and military efforts on defeating their relatives and rivals at Tikal. In the late seventh century, Dos Pilas defeated and sacrificed the king of Tikal, Shield Skull, enhancing the prestige of this newly created Maya polity. During the next century, the rulers of Dos Pilas successfully expanded their state across the Petexbatún region through royal marriages, alliance, and warfare. Even some large and ancient centers, such as Seibal, were subjugated. By 740 ce, the kingdom of Dos Pilas controlled much of the Pasión River valley, one of the major trade routes of the Maya world. During this period of expansionism, the Dos Pilas center acquired great wealth and prestige, as reflected in its tombs and cave deposits, and its many stone monuments. The site's numerous sculpted stelae and its four hieroglyphic stairways present military themes in both text and imagery.

The fall of Dos Pilas was as rapid and dramatic as its rise. In 761 ce, previously subordinate Petexbatún centers defeated the ruler of Dos Pilas. Archaeological remains corresponding to this date show that the site was besieged and destroyed. Evidence of the final years of the site includes concentric fortification walls around architectural complexes and impoverished occupation by small remnant populations. After the fall of Dos Pilas its Petexbatún kingdom fragmented into intensively warring smaller polities. This final violent period of Petexbatún history ended by 800 ce with the virtual abandonment of most of the region.

See alsoArchaeology; Maya, The; Tikal.


Stephen Houston and Peter Mathews, "The Dynastic Sequence of Dos Pilas, Guatemala," in Pre-Columbian Art Research Institute, Monograph 1 (1985).

Arthur Demarest et al., eds., Petexbatún Regional Archaeological Project Preliminary Report 3 (1991) and Petexbatún Regional Archaeological Project Preliminary Report 4 (1992).

Arthur A. Demarest, "The Violent Saga of a Maya Kingdom," in National Geographic 183, no. 2 (1993): 95-111.

Additional Bibliography

Brady, James E. "Settlement Configuration and Cosmology: The Role of Caves at Dos Pilas." American Anthropologist 99, no. 3 (Sept. 1997): 602-618.

Demarest, Arthur A. The Petexbatun Regional Archaeological Project: A Multidisciplinary Study of the Maya Collapse. Nashville: Vanderbilt University Press, 2006.

Houston, Stephen D. Hieroglyphs and History at Dos Pilas: Dynastic Politics of the Classic Maya. Austin: University of Texas Press, 1993.

Martin, Simon, and Nikolai Grube. Chronicle of the Maya Kings and Queens: Deciphering the Dynasties of the Ancient Maya. New York: Thames & Hudson, 2000.

                                   Arthur A. Demarest