The Rise and Fall of Coba, Ek Balam, and Chichen Itza

December 7 - 14 2013 (Past Workshop recap) 

Maya Field Workshops are focused, on-site seminars devoted to exploring the world of Maya archaeology, art and epigraphy. Over six days you will become immersed in the history and culture of the ancient Maya, learning directly from one of the leaders in Maya studies, Dr. David Stuart of The University of Texas.

Home Base was the Hacienda Chichen Resort  



Part of each day on our Yucatan trip was spent at archaeological sites, including Coba, Ek Balam and Chichen Itza. There we visited ancient pyramids and royal courts, publicly accessible areas, restricted areas and ongoing excavations when possible. In the afternoons we gathered together in a small workshop to learn how to read the hieroglyphs and delve deeply into the dynastic history and culture of its kings, queens, and courtiers.


Lots of fun amongst the ruins

Activities involved lots more than walking through ruins! Nature and beautiful critters abound as well as great food. (Those beautiful birds are Turquoise-Browed Motmots found at the Hacienda Chichen nature refuge.)

Dinners were enjoyable times for us to celebrate and discuss what we had seen, ponder the new discoveries, and to ask any questions that may have arisen during the day.

The key part of your experience was the chance to learn about ancient Maya civilization in one of its genuine settings, and with enough time to learn and absorb places, ideas and discoveries. There's no other experience like this in the world of archaeological travel.


Past highlights: George Stuart explores Balankanche Cave, Yucatan

Last December 2013, Dr. George Stuart (David's and Ann's Dad) presented an excellent lecture recapping his 1959 adventures while exploring the magnificent Balankanche Caves as part of the Maya Field Workshop in Yucatan.This was videotaped at the Hacienda Chichen last December 2013 right before the group toured the actual cave site and saw the amazing “Ceiba Tree” formed by stalactites and stalagmites. (This video was first posted on mayaglypher.com.)




This enormous site, at some 40 square kilometers, ranks among the very largest known in the entire Maya Area, along with such giants as Caracol, Calakmul, and Tikal. Cobá boasts an unusual layout as well, with major groups of structures linked by a complex system of sacbes, or causeways, and the areas in between filled with small domestic house groups and walled garden plots. Some of the causeways extend far beyond the limits of Cobá itself to link the ancient city with Ixil and distant Yaxuná, the latter some 62 miles (100 kilometer) distant! The main portion of the site is arranged around several lakes, quite unusual in the northern Maya Lowlands, where water is obtainable mainly from deep cenotes, or natural sinkholes in the limestone. Many parts of Cobá also featured shallow artificial depressions lined with stone and stucco. These served as reservoirs during the rainy season and beyond for the large population. The hieroglyphic monuments of Cobá, many still standing where they were erected in the 8th Century; some where they were re-set during the later, Postclassic occupation of the abandoned Classic Period ruins. The Classic Period stelae here, particularly in the Macanxoc group, are unique in providing Long Count dates that extend the beginning of the day count far, far beyond the normal range of such markers elsewhere.

David explains inscriptions at Coba Ballcourt


The great wonders of this large and important Maya site have only come to light relatively recently–and they have proven to be well worth the wait! First, a few decades ago, archaeologists from Davidson College in North Carolina mapped the mounds and associated features and demonstrated the unique layout of the place, with a circular wall and moat defining the site center and causeways radiating outward in the four cardinal directions. Later, archaeologists from Mexico’s National Institute of Anthropology and History revealed that the large mound complex on the north side of the main plaza concealed a series of nested buildings, tombs, and lengthy hieroglyphic texts. The true wonder of Ek Balam lies in the incredible preservation of the sculpture, some in the full round, that adorn the façades and doorways of the main structure. These provide a rare glimpse, not only of the extraordinary talent of the Maya sculptor who supervised the work here, but suggest that virtually all the masonry buildings of other great sites must have been far more ornate that Mayanists have ever appreciated.


Perhaps the most well-known of all sites in the Maya Area, Chichén Itzá thrived between about AD 300 and 1200. It’s architecture reflects successive occupations by Maya and the Itzá, a group from the fringes of the Maya world who migrated to northern Yucatán and set up a powerful trading and military capital, as well as a major pilgrimage center. The “Castillo,” the most famous building among the many well-preserved structures at the site, reflects the late architecture in its square serpent columns and balustrades, probably representing Kukulcan, or “Feathered Serpent,” a principal icon among all Mesoamericans before the European invasion of the early 16th Century. From the Castillo a sacbe, or causeway, leads to the Sacred Cenote, a great natural well that served as a repository for human sacrifices as well as offerings of jade, gold, and other precious objects from all over Central America. Other buildings contain lintels and other components richly carved with hieroglyphic texts. Recent excavations in the Great Plaza by Mexican archaeologists revealed many layers of construction at this great site.


Early Years at Coba

We are a just a little bit older now but would love to have you be a part of revisiting some of our early years.
In this photo from the mid 1970's David is really wishing he was in the bush looking for new glyphs to decipher, while Ann is already busy taking care of the village animals (she's now an equine veterinarian). Who knew!