Tayasal, the last settled outpost of independent Maya to be conquered by the Spanish. It is on the south shore of Lake Petén in the central lake region of the department of Petén, Guatemala. Yucatecan chronicles report that the Itzá Maya fled to the south following the fall of Chichén Itzá and settled at Tayasal. Cortés passed through Tayasal on his cross-peninsular expedition of 1525. Canek, the local Maya ruler, promised Cortés and his twenty soldiers that his people would convert to Christianity. However, this had not occurred by 1618, when two Franciscans, dispatched from Mérida, also failed in efforts to convert them to Christianity. (During their visit to Tayasal they smashed a stone idol of one of Cortes's horses, made by the fearful Maya when the lame original, left behind in 1525, died.) In 1622 a small military expedition from Mérida was slaughtered before it could attain its goal of conquering Tayasal.
Internal divisions among the Maya and the superior military technology of the Spanish contributed to the Tayasal's defeat. Kan Ek', the leader of the Tayasal, actually tried to form an alliance in 169 5 with the Spanish, hoping that an outside ally would bolster his leadership. However, these negotiations discredited Kan Ek'. The new leadership that emerged refused to surrender. Consequently, in 1696 and 1697, a 235-man Spanish expeditionary force from Mérida, under the direction of Martín de Ursua, governor of Yucatán, succeeded in reaching the lake. Within a month they built a galley from locally hewn timbers. For twelve days, peaceful efforts to effect the conquest were unsuccessful. Finally, after celebrating a mass at dawn, half the Spanish force rowed toward the town in the galley and defeated the numerous defending Tayasal war canoes with heavy musket fire. The Spaniards seized the town, smashed the Maya idols, and completed the conquest of the Mayas on 13 March 1697. Some survivors escaped and maintained small communities by moving far from Spanish settlements. The Spanish army also relocated some of the remaining Itzá to missions, where they led an unsuccessful rebellion in 1704.
In the course of modern archaeological research, questions have arisen about the endpoint of the Itzá migration from northern Yucatán (some evidence suggests nearby Topoxté rather than Tayasal), although the identification of Tayasal with the final conquest of the Maya is not subject to doubt.
See alsoMaya, The .
For an account of the conquest of Tayasal, see J. De Villagutierre Soto-Mayor, Historia de la conquista de la Provincia de el Itzá (Biblioteca Goathemala, Guatemala, 1933). For information on modern archaeological work in Tayasal, consult Arlen F. Chase, "A Contextual Consideration of the Tayasal-Paxcaman Zone, El Peten, Guatemala" (Ph.D. diss., University of Pennsylvania, 1983), "Con manos arriba: Tayasal and Archaeology," in American Antiquity 47, no. 1 (1982): 154-167, and "Archaeology in the Maya Heartland: The Tayasal-Paxcaman Zone, Lake Peten, Guatemala," in Archaeology 37, no. 5 (1985).
Danien, Elin C., and Robert J. Sharer. New Theories on the Ancient Maya. Salerno, Italy: Edizioni del Paguro, 1999.
Jones, Grant D. The Conquest of the Last Maya Kingdom. Stanford, CA: Stanford University Press, 1998.
Walter R. T. Witschey