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Seibal, Maya archaeological site located at the great bend of the Pasión River, near the southwestern corner of Guatemala's Petén rain forest. Extensive investigations by Harvard University archaeologists from 1964 to 1968 revealed an occupation history of approximately 2,000 years, considerably older and longer than that of most Maya sites. The site's initial occupation during the Xe phase (900–600 bce) of the early Middle Preclassic period is represented by distinctive ceramics and the remains of simple houses. The emergence of an incipient sociopolitical hierarchy (600–300 bce), reflected in the construction of small public works, was followed during the Late Preclassic (300 bce–150 ce) by dramatic population increases and the construction of imposing public structures, when the Seibal people developed many of the hallmarks of Maya civilization (monumental architecture, hieroglyphic inscriptions, elaborate pottery). This era of florescence was interrupted by an abrupt 150-year "hiatus" (450–600 ce), when the site was largely abandoned.

During the Late Classic period (600–771 ce) Seibal reemerged as a powerful political center, a process halted in November 735, when Ruler 3 of the Petexbatún polity, centered at the nearby site of Dos Pilas, captured the Seibal ruler Yich'ak Balam, or "Jaguar Paw," and killed him. When the Petex-batún polity broke apart during the mid-eighth century, the newly independent Seibal enjoyed unprecedented prosperity. Between 771 and 950 ce, after Maya civilization collapsed and most Maya centers were abandoned, Seibal thrived under the rulership of probable outsiders, sometimes identified as Putun Maya invaders, whose presence is marked by fine paste pottery, an art style not fully in the Classic Maya tradition, and by distinctive skeletal attributes. Yet the Maya collapse isolated Seibal politically and economically, and sometime in the late eleventh century the site was abandoned.

See alsoArchaeology; Maya, The.


Richard E. W. Adams, "Maya Collapse: Transformation and Termination in the Ceramic Sequence at Altar de Sacrificios," in The Classic Maya Collapse, edited by T. Patrick Culbert (1973), pp. 133-163.

Jeremy A. Sabloff, Excavations at Seibal, Department of Petén, Guatemala: Ceramics (Memoirs of the Peabody Museum, Harvard University, 1975) vol. 13, no. 2.

Gordon R. Willey, "The Rise of Classic Maya Civilization: A Pasión Valley Perspective," in The Origins of Maya Civilization, edited by Richard E. W. Adams (1977), pp. 133-157.

Gordon R. Willey, ed., "General Summary and Conclusions," Excavations at Seibal, Department of Petén, Guatemala (Memoirs of the Peabody Museum, Harvard University, 1990), vol. 17, no. 4, pp. 175-276.

Additional Bibliography

Demarest, Arthur A., Prudence M. Rice, and Don S. Rice. The Terminal Classic in the Maya Lowlands: Collapse, Transition, and Transformation. Boulder: University Press of Colorado, 2004.

Schele, Linda, and Peter Mathews. The Code of Kings: The Language of Seven Sacred Maya Temples and Tombs. New York: Simon & Schuster, 1999.

                                        Kevin Johnston

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