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Petexbatún, region on the southwestern side of the Petén rain forest of Guatemala centering around Lake Petexbatún and surrounding rivers and swamps. In the Early Classic period of Maya civilization (300–600 ce) the major Petexbatún centers of Tamarindito and Arroyo de Piedra had excellent architecture and stone stelae. The most important epic of Petexbatún history, however, began in the early seventh century, when outcast princes from the royal dynasty of the great site of Tikal arrived in the region and established a new capital at the site of Dos Pilas. Hieroglyphic stairways and panels at Dos Pilas and throughout the region record the rapid and dramatic saga of this upstart dynasty. In 679 ce, the defeat of the king of Tikal by "Ruler 1" of Dos Pilas brought prestige to the new center. From Dos Pilas, and later from its twin capital at Aguateca, the new rulers used royal marriage, alliance, and warfare to dominate all the Petexbatún region and later most of the adjacent Pasión River valley, one of the most important transport and trade arteries of the Maya world.

Dos Pilas expansionism ended abruptly and tragically in 761 ce when it was besieged, defeated, and abandoned. After that year, the region fragmented into several competing polities that waged intensive wars against each other. Archaeological investigations have shown that this period witnessed a radical shift in the rules of Maya warfare in this region. Massive fortification systems were found by the Vanderbilt University Petexbatún Regional Archaeological Project at many sites, including walled fortresses and moats at the sites of Punta de Chimino, Aguateca, Dos Pilas, Cerro de Cheyo, Cerro de Mariposa, and Quim Chi Hilan. Warfare, disruption of economic activities and trade, and subsequent depopulation appear to have rapidly destroyed Maya civilization in this region. By the beginning of the ninth century, only scattered households are found in the Petexbatún area. Many scholars believe that the early and violent fall of Classic Maya civilization in the Petexbatún holds important clues for understanding the broader enigma of the Classic Maya collapse in other regions.

See alsoMaya, The .


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

Peter Mathews and Gordon R. Willey, "Prehistoric Polities of the Pasión Region," in Classic Maya Political History, edited by T. Patrick Culbert (1991), 30-71.

Arthur Demarest et al., eds., 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

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

Emery, Kitty F. Maya Zooarchaeology: New Directions in Method and Theory. Los Angeles: Cotsen Institute of Archaeology at University of California, Los Angeles, 2004.

Inomata, Takeshi. Settlements and Fortifications of Aguateca: Archaeological Maps of a Petexbatun Center. Nashville: Vanderbilt University Press, 2007.

Masson, Marilyn A., and David A Freidel, eds. Ancient Maya Political Economies. Walnut Creek, CA: AltaMira Press, 2002.

Wright, Lori E. Diet, Health, and Status among the Pasión Maya: A Reappraisal of the Collapse. Nashville: Vanderbilt University Press, 2006.

                                     Arthur A. Demarest