views updated


Tulum, a small but significant Late Postclassic (1250–1500 ce) trading and religious center located on the east coast of the Yucatán Peninsula in Quintana Roo, Mexico. It was the most important member of a network of coastal sites, including Tancah, Xelhá, and the island of Cozumel, on a seaborne trade route along the Caribbean coast to Honduras.

The site commands a dramatic setting on a cliff overlooking the Caribbean Sea. It is protected on its three sides by a wall 2,640 feet long and almost seven feet high. The major structures of the site lie in the center of a rectangular enclosure 1,254 feet long. The Castle, the smaller Temple of the Diving God, the Temple of the Initial Series, and the Temple of the Frescoes are the most important buildings. There are also structures in the corners of the walls and along the enclosure. Compared with Classic buildings, the structures at Tulum are small and poorly built.

Polychrome murals and stucco reliefs decorate the interior and exterior walls of the buildings. The paintings are of ritual themes; many are multitiered works showing gods in scenes of ceremonial action. Those of the Temple of the Frescoes and the Temple of the Diving God are the best preserved. The Mixtec style of the paintings is similar to that of the coastal site of Santa Rita Corozal, Belize, which supports the idea that there was cultural contact along the coast. Stucco relief decoration occurs on the corners and niches of buildings. One important motif, a bee god with wings, portrayed in a frontal, diving position, occurs in several locations. The keeping of honey bees is a present-day Yucatán industry, and honey was probably an export in the past.

See alsoMesoamerica; Mixtecs.


Samuel Kirland Lothrop, Tulum: An Archaeological Study of the East Coast of the Yucatán, Carnegie Institution of Washington Publication 335 (1924).

Donald Robertson, "The Tulum Murals: The International Style of the Late Postclassic," in Verhandlungen des 38, Internationalen Amerikanistenkongresses, vol. 2 (1970), pp. 77-88.

Arthur G. Miller, On the Edge of the Sea: Mural Painting at Tancah-Tulum, Quintana Roo, Mexico (1982).

Additional Bibliography

Goñi, Guillermo. De cómo los mayas perdieron Tulum. Mexico City: Instituto Nacional de Antropología e Historia, 1999.

Shaw, Justine M., and Jennifer P. Mathews, eds. Quintana Roo Archaeology. Tucson: University of Arizona Press, 2005.

Vargas Pacheco, Ernesto. Tulum: Organización políticoterritorial de la costa oriental de Quintana Roo. Mexico City: Universidad Nacional Autónoma de México, Instituto de Investigaciones Antropológicas, 1997.

                                     Eugenia J. Robinson