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            The earliest Spanish explorers of the east coast of Yucatan mention various sites along the coast between Cape Catoche, in the northeast corner of the peninsula, and Honduras. Few ships disembarked explorers. Muyil, 12 km west of the coast and not visible from a small sailing ship off shore, is not mentioned by the first Spaniards to visit the area.

            The first mention of Muyil (but not as an archaeological site or occupied town) appears in the account of the Tulum-Tancah area (Zama, Tzama) by Juan Darreygosa (1579), the Relación de Zama, one of the Relaciones of Yucatan prepared in response to a questionnaire by Spanish officials. He says,

         there is a river two leagues from the town [Zama, i.e., Tulum/Tancah], resembling a lagoon; it runs two leagues inland and is called Muyil.

The same account indicates that Zama

           ... has been a settlement of many Indians, and during the past 20 years a large number have died, so that today in the town there are fewer than 50 tribute-paying Indians, who are poor in spirit and without energy.

It is likely that the prehispanic site of Muyil, only 25 km south­west of Tulum but apparently unknown to the conquistadors, was severely depopulated at the same time as Tulum (A.D. 1511-1579.) It may well have been abandoned prior to the time of the Darreygosa account (1579). Throughout the region European diseases took a fierce toll, with the tragedy compounded by Spanish forced-labor practices. The result was a widespread drop in the native population of more than 80% with numerous sites completely abandoned. Although Muyil has Late Postclassic pottery in abundance, we did not recover any Spanish Colonial artifacts in our three field seasons. During the sixteenth century, Muyil entered the "Lost World" (Peissel 1963) of undocumented jungle-clad ruins.

            After 1579, the name Muyil next appears on a map from 1766 in González Avilés (1970). The first recent explorers in the area were Stephens (1843) and Catherwood, yet their journey extended no farther south than Tulum. Muyil is neither mentioned nor marked on the map in Sánchez and Salvador Toscano (1919) from the Atlas of Mexico by Martín. Subsequently, Muyil is mentioned by Lothrop in his account of the Carnegie Institution's three expeditions to the Quintana Roo coast in 1916, 1918, and 1922, as a map reference (Lothrop 1924, Figure 2, p. 12), which shows Muyil on the coast. However, from the context, it is likely that Lothrop's reference is derived solely from the Relación de Zama, which he discusses in the accompanying text (pp. 10-12). He says later that

         On the east coast very high terraced pyramids are markedly absent. The highest measured substructure is at El Meco and is only 25 feet high ... (Lothrop 1924:27).  

            We know today that the tallest structure at Muyil is more than 17 m (50+ feet) above the nearby terrain and about 24 m above the water level of the lagoon. It certainly would have been noted by the Carnegie Institution's expeditions had they been aware of it. This temple-pyramid (Structure 8I-13), was first recorded and photographed by the Mason-Spinden Expedition of 1926, the first archaeological expedition to visit the site (Mason 1927, frontispiece). 

 

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