Yale anthropology professor Marcello Canuto has resolved a long-standing debate in archaeological circles over the location of Site Q with his discovery in April 2005 of an ancient Mayan panel in La Corona in northwestern Guatemala.
The story of Site Q stretches back to the early 1970s, when Mayan artifacts that seemed to be in the same style and from roughly the same time period appeared on the US antiquities market, said Michael Coe, Yale anthropology professor emeritus. Peter Mathews GRD ’88, a then-Yale graduate student in anthropology, subsequently noticed similarities upon studying the artifacts and coined the term “Site Q” after the Spanish “que” or “which.”
Although the La Corona site was discovered by Mayanists and archaeologists in 1996 and cited as one of many possible sources of the artifacts, the panel Canuto found at the site — which is carved with over 140 hieroglyphs that describe a key 30 year chapter in Mayan history — definitively links La Corona with Site Q, Coe said.
“All these decades, people have been wondering where this was. There was never any solution to this,” Coe said. “It turned out that one candidate after another for Site Q turned out to be on the wrong track. When Marcello hit these actual panels now we know that this is the place.”
But after a week-long non-digging expedition to La Corona in April 1997 led by Ian Graham* and David Stuart, a professor of art and art history at the University of Texas, the team believed they had found Site Q. The ideas were formally presented at symposia in 2001.
The role of the new panel in linking La Corona to Site Q is supplementary to previous knowledge of the site, Stuart said.
“I think we already had decisive links. We had the historical evidence, we had the physical evidence, we had the circumstantial evidence,” he said. “The new panel adds some historical info we didn’t know before, but mentions some people we already knew about.”
The reason for going to La Corona stemmed partially from its recognition as a known-site, Canuto said. The panel was discovered in an area of earth around the site that had escaped earlier looting and the shovels of other archaeologists.
“The panel that I discovered was at the end of one of these looters’ tunnels. The looters thankfully didn’t go far enough. In the intervening time, much of the soil that they had exposed had softened the earth,” Canuto said. “It’s a matter of circumstance as well as luck to have been there when this panel was exposed by erosion and other natural factors.”
The contents of the panel concern a father and his eldest son, who each ruled La Corona in the decade of the 670s AD during a major war in the Mayan Empire. The panel will allow scientists to understand a previously existing gap in the dynastic history of La Corona, Canuto said.
The April expedition, in which Canuto became the leading archaeologist, is part of a larger effort in the region created in part by David Freidel, an anthropology professor at Southern Methodist University. This effort, termed the “K’an Te’el alliance,” will manage the search in the park area in which the site is located.
The outcome of the expedition was successful and will hopefully effect positive change in the region, Freidel said.
“I am thrilled by his discovery and by the success of his project and very much want a continued scientific presence in the area to challenge the people who are looting the forest,” Friedel said.