I love history, and was especially fascinated by what I saw at Tikal. Here is an abbreviated version of the history of the Maya at Tikal…in my own words (thus making none of this actually reliable).
The Maya settled here somewhere around 700 BC, and within 500 years, the structures were starting to take form. Around two thousand years ago, Tikal entered the Classic Period, and the Great Plaza (shown right) began to take shape. But just because you can put some stones in a cool shape doesn’t mean you will be powerful. They adopted a new type of warfare…one of aerial assaults instead of hand to hand combat. Because of their ability to go “Hey, what if we throw a spear at our enemy instead of running to meet them head on,” they were able to become one of the most dominant civilizations in the area. Around 550 AD, Tikal had a population near 100,000 people and spanned an area over 30 square kilometers. Some guy in Mexico thought he could rule Tikal better…so he came in, decided to throw stuff at them, and conquered. Tikal was then ruled by this Mexican for about a hundred years until King Double Comb (I swear that’s his real name) came about. He ascended the throne of Tikal, helped restore it’s military strength, and also finished building the Great Plaza.
Then…around 900…BAMM! The mysterious collapse of the Mayan civilization began to take hold. Theories consist of a prolonged drought, land losing nutrients, or over population. Those all sound kind of boring, and although probably valid, I think someone finally said “Hey, it’s hot as crap here. I’m sick of mosquitoes and humidity…let’s move north.”
The ruins sat for about a thousand years, allowing the jungle to overtake them. In 1848, the Guatemalan government sent an expedition to check the site of Tikal out. Honestly, they didn’t do much…but for some reason they did let some Swiss guy come in twenty years later and remove artifacts to take back to Switzerland (which is where they are still today). At the turn of the century, archeology excavation began to take place. In the 1950’s, they put an airstrip, making access much easier. They eventually paved the road from Flores to Tikal (to allow the vast amounts of tourists to come and take pictures), and then lined the entrance with souvenir stands. I was thinking about buying the shirt that says “I heart Tikal,” but figured I would look too ridiculous. Instead, I opted for a eight foot foam statue of the Great Plaza that I will use to decorate my future living quarters.
I only touched briefly on the history, but I will share more as knowledge is fed to me.