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Río Azul

Río Azul

Río Azul, a Maya archaeological site in the extreme northeastern part of Guatemala, on the river of the same name. The zone was occupied from about 900 bce to 880 ce. Pioneer farmers and, later, early aristocrats organized the zone into a line of villages, temples, and large platforms along the east bank of the river. About 380 ce, the zone was conquered by Tikal and the native elite executed. Tikal then established a new city, which had the functions of protecting the state's northwestern frontier, controlling trade to the Caribbean, and administering the region. Río Azul was defensible and probably fortified. In about 150 years, 729 buildings were constructed and one of the largest Early Classic temples in the Maya lowlands was built (Str. A-3).

In the fifth century ce the rulers of Tikal sent a member of the family to Río Azul as governor. He was accompanied by two advisers who were most likely foreigners from Teotihuacán in central Mexico. Eventually, the governor died and was buried in the most elaborate painted tomb ever found in the Maya lowlands. A series of painted tombs for other governors and their family members was created during this period. Elaborate temples were built over the tombs. During the sixth century ce Río Azul was devastated by burning and other destruction and abandoned for about 120 years. It later became a military outpost, but about 840 ce was taken again and burned in a raid by northern Maya. The zone was abandoned in the general collapse of southern Maya civilization by 900 ce.

See alsoArchaeology; Maya, the.


Richard E. W. Adams, "Río Azul, Lost City of the Maya," in National Geographic 169, no. 4 (1986): 420-451, and "Archaeological Research at the Lowland Maya City of Río Azul," in Latin American Antiquity 1, no. 1 (1990): 23-41.

Richard E. W. Adams and Hubert R. Robichaux, "Tombs of Río Azul, Guatemala," in National Geographic Research and Exploration 8, no. 4 (1992): 412-427.

Additional Bibliography

Adams, Richard E. W. Río Azul: An Ancient Maya City. Norman: University of Oklahoma Press, 1999.

Atran, Scott, Ximena Lois, and Edilberto Ucan Ek. Plants of the Petén Itza' Maya = Plantas de los maya itza' del Petén. Ann Arbor: Museum of Anthropology, University of Michigan, 2004.

Evans, Susan Toby. Ancient Mexico & Central America: Aarchaeology and Culture History. London: Thames & Hudson, 2004.

                                       R. E. W. Adams

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