Archaeological landscape, settlement dynamics, and sociopolitical organization in the Chactún area of the central Maya Lowlands

PLoS One. 2022 Jan 21;17(1):e0262921. doi: 10.1371/journal.pone.0262921. eCollection 2022.


Until recently, an extensive area in the central lowlands of the Yucatán peninsula was completely unexplored archaeologically. In 2013 and 2014, during initial surveys in the northern part of the uninhabited Calakmul Biosphere Reserve in eastern Campeche, Mexico, we located Chactún, Tamchén and Lagunita, three major Maya centers with some unexpected characteristics. Lidar data, acquired in 2016 for a larger area of 240 km2, revealed a thoroughly modified and undisturbed archaeological landscape with a remarkably large number of residential clusters and widespread modifications related to water management and agriculture. Substantial additional information was obtained through field surveys and test excavations in 2017 and 2018. While hydraulic and agricultural features and their potential for solving various archaeologically relevant questions were discussed in a previous publication, here we examine the characteristics of settlement patterns, architectural remains, sculpted monuments, and ceramic evidence. The early Middle Preclassic (early first millennium BCE) material collected in stratigraphic pits at Tamchén and another locale constitutes the earliest evidence of colonization known so far in a broader central lowland area. From then until the Late Classic period, which was followed by a dramatic demographic decline, the area under study witnessed relatively constant population growth and interacted with different parts of the Maya Lowlands. However, a number of specific and previously unknown cultural traits attest to a rather distinctive regional development, providing novel information about the extent of regional variation within the Maya culture. By analyzing settlement pattern characteristics, inscriptional data, the distribution of architectural volumes and some other features of the currently visible archaeological landscape, which largely reflects the Late Classic situation, we reconstruct several aspects of sociopolitical and territorial organization in that period, highlighting similarities with and differences from what has been evidenced in the neighboring Río Bec region and elsewhere in the Maya area.

Publication types

  • Historical Article
  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Agriculture / history*
  • Archaeology*
  • Civilization / history*
  • History, Ancient
  • Humans
  • Indians, Central American / history*
  • Mexico

Grant support

The research was accomplished with funding from the Slovenian Research Agency ( to IŠ (grants ARRS J6-7085, 2016-2018; ARRS P6-0079, 2015-2021) and ŽK (grants ARRS P2-0406, 2019-2024). ALS scanning and fieldwork were co-financed by the KJJ Charitable Foundation, presided by Ken and Julie Jones (USA), and additionally supported by Hotel Río Bec Dreams (Mexico;, Ars longa (, Adria Kombi (, Abanka, Rokus Klett (, Parka Group (, GKTI, BSL, Klemen Fedran, Martin Hobel, and Aleš Obreza (Slovenia). The funders had no role in study design, data collection and analysis, decision to publish, or preparation of the manuscript.