January 13, 2007  Marcello Canuto, PhD.: From Site Q to Sak Nikte':  Chronicle of a 40-year Classic Maya Mystery              
 
On January  13, Dr. Marcello Canuto shared with the society the mystery of Site Q, which began after 1960, when beautifully carved Classic Maya monuments from an unknown source began to flood the art market. Dr.Michael Coe and graduate student Peter Matthews, of Yale, began to develop a corpus of these portable works, which most likely were cut from larger sculptures by looters. Not knowing the source of these works, they coined the name Site Q, an abbreviation for the Spanish phrase ¿sitio que?, or which site?, and initiated a search for its location.  Among the clues they could follow were that the group of monuments were stylistically similar to those from Piedras Negras and Yaxchilan,  and that there were a lot of snake head emblem glyphs on the stones, which eventually pointed to the site of Calakmul. However, the greater degree of erosion of the Calakmul inscriptions was indicative of a much softer stone at that site, therefore it most likely was not Site Q.
             When Ian Graham began investigating the heavily looted Late Classic site of El Perú, which he had discovered in 1972 in the Petén region of Guatemala, he speculated that the pieces might have come from there. Similarities and differences in sculptural style hinted that the two sites were not identical, but were geographically close. As advances in epigraphy led to better translations of the inscriptions of Site Q, and those of other sites near Calakmul, it became apparent that Site Q was most likely a vassal state of Calakmul.  It had a place name associated with it: Sak Nikte, or White Plumeria Flower, but no Emblem Glyph. Its inscriptions, instead, referred often to the kings and the site of Calakmul. Indeed, many of its rulers appeared to have married women from Calakmul, and at least one young lord spent two years there during the height of its war with Tikal.  Many scholars now believed that Site Q was most likely located in the northwest part of the Petén, between El Perú and Calakmul, in a predominantly marshy area which had not been well explored.
            In 1997, Ian Graham and David Stuart, representing the Peabody Museum, followed local reports of an unexcavated site and searched in an area of the Laguna del Tigre Park, near Calakmul and El Perú. They found the site, which showed evidence of looting, named it La Corona for the crown-like shape of one of its main architectural complexes and hypothesized that it might be Site Q. In 2005 and 2006, Dr. Canuto, as part of a team which included David Freidel and Stanley Guenter, among others, was able to make two short visits to survey the site. On the second visit, the team, accompanied by Guatemalan soldiers and forest police, and assisted by photos and maps provided by Tom Seaver of NASA, attempted to establish the absolute locations of the monuments using GPS readings. Toward the end of this visit, Marcello was attempting to plot coordinates for a group of smaller funerary temples. While waiting for his instrument to obtain a reading through the thick canopy, he investigated a nearby looting trench, where he spied a regular pattern in a semi-exposed wall. After debris was cleared, epigrapher Stanley Guenter, who was working nearby, was immediately able to read the glyphs that had been exposed.  When advised of the find, officials in Guatemala City, fearing looters, insisted that they remove the inscribed piece. Excavating with spoons, as they had brought no tools with them, they were able to remove two panels and carry them to safety. The panels were carved from specular hematite which had been painted red, and they contained more than 140 carved hieroglyphs which were stylistically identical to those of Site Q. This, Marcello and others feel, verifies that La Corona and Site Q are identical. A few pieces that might belong on a hieroglyphic staircase, and other loose glyphs were also discovered and the team members were given hope that some artifacts might still remain at the site by their forest guards, former looters, who belittled the shoddy technique of the previous looters!
Dr. Canuto and others who will work on La Corona – Site Q have many tasks and problems before them. Hopefully, excavation of the site will be possible. They want to determine its status in the struggle between Calakmul and Tikal for dominance over the Petén. Marcello feels that it was probably an advance post, or a bivouac point, for warriors fighting for Calakmul. It was the piece of  non-swampy land controlled by Calakmul which was farthest from Tikal and still had good, abundant water, and it was close to major trade routes. An additional task is the reevaluation of the corpus of supposed Site Q inscriptions. Finally, the region surrounding the sites of La Corona, El Peru, and even eventually Calakmul is at risk.  Farmers are burning and clearing nearby land, for themselves and at the behest of ranchers and eventually drug smugglers, who require cleared landing strips. We thank Dr. Canuto for his stimulating talk, and wish him continued success!
 
            Marcello Canuto received his Ph.D. from the University of Pennsylvania in 2002, and is an Assistant Professor of Anthropology at Yale University. He has conducted research primarily in Mexico, Belize, and Honduras, where he recently completed settlement research in and around the Classic Maya city of Copan. His academic interests include household and community dynamics, socio-political organization of the prehispanic Maya, the definition of identity through material culture, and the modern social contexts of archaeology in Mesoamerica. He is the Faculty Advisor for the Yale Anthropology Society as well as the Director of Undergraduate Studies for the Archaeological Studies Program. Currently he is co-directing a multi-disciplinary research project in Honduras – Proyecto Arqueológico Regional El Paraíso, or PAREP – which explores Classic Maya socio-political interaction and its role in identity formation. This project brings together an international multi-disciplinary team of archaeologists, geologists, ecologists, and ethnographers that range in experience from professional to undergraduate. He is also currently working on a book titled: Communities of Family and State: The Rise of Classic Maya Socio-political Complexity.

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