- Using airborne laser scans, researchers found a complex hidden under the jungle once at the heart of the Mayan empire
- The buildings appear to be replicas of a compound in Teotihuacan, a rival city-state that eventual conquered Tikal
- They include a version of the Temple of Quetzalcoatl, the Feathered Serpent
- Experts believe its evidence Teotihuacan and Tikalmay were allies at one time Archaeologists in Guatemala believe they have discovered a hidden 'embassy' in the legendary Mayan city of Tikal.
The compound includes a pyramid, burial site and various items indicative of Teotihuacan, a rival city-state hundreds of miles away in Mexico.
It was recently discovered thanks to aerial laser scans that could pierce through centuries of dirt and jungle growth
The finding suggests Teotihuacan, which conquered Tikal in the late 4th century, was once on good terms with its rival to build a diplomatic base there.
In 2018, researchers with the Foundation for Maya Cultural and Natural Heritage (PACUNAM) scanned the region around Tikal from the sky using Light Detection And Ranging, or LiDAR, technology.
LiDAR is able to pierce the dense forest canopy that has grown in the centuries since Tikal fell and find the remains of buildings hidden by trees and soil.Archaeologists were able to determine Tikal was much larger than previously presumed, with millions more inhabitants.
One image from the southern part of the city clearly showed a pyramid with an enclosed courtyard lined with smaller structures under mounds originally believed to just be hills.
Edwin Román-Ramírez, director of the South Tikal Archaeological Project, began excavating at the site last summer and discovered the structures were made from earth and stucco, materials the Maya didn't use in construction.
And instead of looking like typical Mayan architecture, the buildings were nearly identical to ones found in Teotihuacan, a rival city-state more than 600 miles away in what is now Mexico City.
Brown University archaeologist Stephen Houston told National Geographic the complex appeared to be a half-size replica of 'the Citadel,' a massive Teotihuacan development that includes the six-level pyramid known as the Temple of Quetzalcoatl, the Feathered Serpent.
'The similarity of the details was stunning,' Houston said.
Items typical of early fourth-century Teotihuacan were found on the site, including darts made of green obsidian and carvings of the Teotihuacan rain god.
They also found a burial conducted in the Teotihuacán manner.
At a press conference last week, Edwin Román-Ramírez, director of the South Tikal Archaeological Project, said the discovery 'proved that people who were from Teotihuacán or people closely associated with the Teotihuacán culture also lived in Tikal.'
'We knew that the Teotihuacanos had at least some presence and influence in Tikal and nearby Maya areas prior to the year 378,' Román-Ramírez told National Geographic.
'But it wasn't clear whether the Maya were just emulating aspects of the region's most powerful kingdom. Now there's evidence that the relationship was much more than that.'
Some experts have posited the compound was an ancient Teotihuacan embassy, from a time when the two societies had a more cordial relationship.
In January 378, the Teotihuacan king Spearthrower Owl sent forces under his general Born of Fire, to Tikal.
Tikal's king, Jaguar Paw, died the same day Spearthrower Owl's young son was installed as king of the rival city-state.
By the fifth century, architecture and art in Tikal showed Teotihuacan influences, but the replica Citadel was constructed around 300 AD.
If correct, the theory about the 'embassy' suggests diplomatic ties deteriorated and hostilities broke out between the two societies.
The idea is supported by the discovery of a compound indicative of the Maya recently found in the heart of Teotihuacan
The structure's walls were decorated with colorful Maya-style murals, Science reports, but they were eventually smashed to bits and buried—right around the time Tikal was overtaken.
Researchers hope further excavation and analysis of human remains in the burial chamber at Tikal will provide more information on what purpose the compound served.
The Mayan civilization reached its peak between 250 and 900 AD, when it controlled large swathes of what are now southern Mexico, Guatemala, Belize and Honduras.
It came to a end with the arrival of Hernán Cortés and the Spanish conquistadors in the 16th century.
In March, archaeologists announced the discovery of a site in El Palmar, Mexico, and the remains of a high-ranking Mayan diplomat who lived 1,300 years ago.
Named Ajpach' Waal, he is believed to have been instrumental in forging an unlikely alliance between two powerful dynasties.
His body was found in a grave at a temple with a stairway leading to a ceremonial platform.
Adorning the stairway was a smattering of hieroglyphics which revealed Ajpach' Waal travelled to Honduras in 726 AD to facilitate a treaty between the rival kings of Copán and Calakmul.
Like many parts of the Mayan empire, El Palmar was eventually abandoned and reclaimed by the jungle.