What to see at Muyil
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Background

Muyil is located in the northern part of the approximately 1.5-million acre Sian Ka'an Biosphere Reserve and is considered the largest ancient Maya site within the Reserve. The name Muyil first appears in Colonial writings and today is applied to both the archaeological site and a nearby fresh-water lagoon. 

Ceramic fragments tell us that Muyil was settled by about 300 B.C., the end of the Middle Formative, but no architectural elements this old have been found.

Castillo, west face (front)

The site grew slowly through the next 900 years. Farming grew in importance, but hunting, gathering and fishing were the major source of food. Like today, the forests and marshlands near the site were an abundant source of fish, game, and edible plants. In the latter part of this period (Early Classic - A.D. 300 - 600) masonry architecture appeared. Both civic-ceremonial architecture and different size house mounds indicate a developing class structure.

During the Middle and Late Classic, architecture and ceramics show ties with sites to the south in the Peten and Belize, gradually shifting to have a greater focus on Maya sites to the west, such as Chichen Itza and Uxmal. Muyil is well-situated to have served as a route for both land and sea trade between Coba and areas to the south.

In the Postclassic (after A.D. 1000) Muyil participates in both the architectural style of the East Coast, and in its ceramic styles. Many pieces of large Chen Mul censers that date to this era were recovered in excavations at Muyil.

Following the arrival of the Spanish, nothing is heard from Muyil until the area is resettled in the mid 1800s. The population was likely diminished by disease, as well as fleeing into the interior of the peninsula.

Walking about the site

 The site is made up of three distinct areas: 

bulletMuyil A (the core of the pre-Columbian settlement, next to the Muyil lagoon), 
bulletMuyil B, also called the Cenote Group, and the 
bulletWest Group. 

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Site map of Muyil A

The only area open to the public is Muyil A. the chief architectural remains visible today are the Entrance Plaza Group, The Castillo, part of Sacbe 1, and Temple 8, as well as some platforms, chapels, and dry-laid stone walls.

Entrance Plaza Group. 

There is a horse-shoe ring of buildings on a raised platform located about 400 feet from the archaeological zone's entrance. The group contains 13 structures ranging from pyramidal and non-pyramidal platforms to temples and altars. However, only six of these can be visited, and they are to your right on the path leading to the site. Apparently, many of the structures are among the site's oldest.  

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Entrance Plaza Group

Structure 6 (on the plaza of the Entrance Plaza Group)

This double-room temple is built in the East Coast architectural style and is later in construction that the taller buildings on the plaza. At the west entrance to the outer sanctuary you will note some stucco still adhering to the building, plus traces of black and Mayan blue decorative painting. Looters smashed the altar placed against the rear wall of this structure.  

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Structure 6

The Castillo 

Proceeding 450 feet east of the Entrance Plaza Group to arrive at the Castillo. This 57-foot high building is the tallest at the site (in fact, one of the tallest on the east coast), and one of the most interesting, despite its advanced deterioration. Major consolidation work has been carried out on the structure since 1990. A radiocarbon date from an upper zapote-wood lintel places the date of the upper part of the Castillo near the middle of the 11th century.   

The Castillo upper temple

The upper temple is unique due to its atypical architectural features. It has at its top, for example, a solid, circular turret, the function of which has not yet been determined, and not been found in any other ancient building on the east coast. It has three entrances from the west and its cramped interior makes it difficult to move around. Some of its wooden lintels are the original ones and still display traces of the red and Mayan blue paint covering the walls.     

Castillo lintel (source of C-14 date)

Access to the upper temple is by two stairways. The lower one, in poor condition, has beaming and was much wider than the upper flight. The latter, as shown in photographs, was built at the back (over part of the underlying structure) and led to the temple that can now be seen. Use of this stairway is forbidden due to its instability.

In front of the Castillo are the remains of small altars. In addition, a sacbe begins at the foot of the steps of the Castillo and continues westward toward the highway. A second sacbe (Sacbe 1) departs the rear of the Castillo and proceeds eastward toward the Muyil Lagoon.

Sacbe System

There is a linear system of sacbes at Muyil, running generally east-west and end-to-end, beginning near the highway, and proceeding to the lagoon. There are several temple-pyramids along this route. The largest is the Castillo (see above) and the Castillo is the best place to see remaining portions of the sacbe system. The sacbe running eastward from the back of the Castillo is 143 feet long, 20 feet wide, and 20 inches high. It is made of stone rubble, and was once paved with stucco or plaster to form a smooth white surface.  

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The sacbe system clearly runs from the commercial/ceremonial center of the site to the edge of the lagoon and suggests use for both trade and ceremonial purposes.

Temple 8 

This structure is a clear example of the Maya practice of overbuilding, since the remains of an inner temple are clearly visible in the southern edge of the supporting platform. The temple as well as altars, platforms, and chapels are elevated on an artificial platform and are ringed by a low wall. The temple has one entrance on its north side, and another on its east flank.

The stepped, four-level platform on which the structure rests is 66 feet long and 50 feet wide. You reach the top by the stairs on the north side. Recent excavations undertaken here revealed three superimposed staircases. The oldest of these probably belongs to the underlying structure, and the two later ones to the outer structure. The latest stairway is lined with beams.  

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Temple 8 itself rises from the rear of the top tier of the platform, and is classified as a sanctuary. Its facade looks north and has a triple entrance formed by two pillars. The front part of the vaulted roofing has collapsed, but inside you can see a small altar. On the stuccoed walls here you will note remnants of the original blue and red paint. This East Coast style building dates from the Late Postclassic (A.D. 1200-1550).

The structure underlying Temple 8's foundations, which to date has not been open to the public ­has the same axis as, and dimensions similar to, the building covering it. The stucco and painting that decorate the chapel are better preserved, so you can see traces of some designs in blue, red, yellow, and black.

At the foot of the access stairway to Temple 8 there is a typical chapel from the Post-classic period. Its facade looks northward and its roofing has fallen into the building.

If you proceed on the footpath, on both sides of it you will see more platforms, chapels, and walls. Return to the entrance via the same path.

Portions of this background are based on the English Mini-guide written by W. R. T. Witschey and Elia del Carment Trejo A., copyright 1991 by INAH, the National Institute of Anthropology and History.

 

© Copyright 2000-2008 Walter R. T. Witschey   Page last updated Thursday, April 03, 2008