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Archaeologists Excavate Ancient Maya River Port in Southeast Mexico

BALANCAN, MEXICO (EFE).- The finding of 23 archaeological pieces from about 600 BC has strengthened the historic importance of the Maya city of Moral-Reforma, a river port located in the current Mexican state of Tabasco which was almost unknown until a group of experts began excavating it three months ago.

The archaeological site, which is 87 hectares (217 acres) in size, is located adjacent to the ranching community of Reforma.

The community belongs to the municipality of Balancan, which in Maya means "place of tigers and serpents," and it is located 250 kilometers (155 miles) from Villahermosa, the capital of Tabasco.

Benito Lopez, one of the two experts heading the excavation, told Efe that Moral-Reforma functioned as a port or bartering spot for other Maya cities in the present-day states of Campeche and Chiapas, and in neighboring Guatemala.

Running together near the ruins are the Usumacinta River - the country's largest - and the San Pedro River, a communications route with southern Mexico.

"The hypothesis tells us that this zone could have been a route for those who were ... seeking to trade," said Lopez at the site, where the temperature reaches 45 C (113 F) at this time of year.

The first investigatory work was done on the main structures at the Maya port 17 years ago, and some of the principal monuments have been restored, among them a traditional ball court and three buildings.

Five stone stelae with inscriptions, some complete and others just fragmentary, from the area are currently exhibited at the museum in Balancan and the Carlos Pellicer Museum in Villahermosa.

The team of archaeologists for the past three months has been investigating one of the two main levels of the most important building, a pyramid covered with soil that rises in the extreme northern part of the Indian city and resembles the ruins of Calakmul in Campeche.

When one climbs up the first 15 steps of the pyramid, one can see a series of altars discovered in recent weeks which "surely were painted and plastered," according to the expert.

Masks, small sculptures, stones, spear points and heads painted green comprise the 23 pieces unearthed in the area adjacent to the pyramid.

"This morning, we found another little face of a person. These pieces are of limestone, flint, the same material with which the pyramids are made," said Lopez during a stroll through the ruins.

The pieces found to date were sent last Monday to the Villahermosa office of Mexico's National Anthropology and History Institute for restoration.

According to the research performed so far, Moral-Reforma was part of the dominion of Palenque, one of the main Maya cities in Mexico.

Francisco Cuevas Reyes, the other archaeologist heading the investigation, said that at the site are another 95 earthen mounds that could contain more Maya artifacts or buildings.

"With this work, the (Maya) people are taking shape," he said.

The experts calculate that by August they will have excavated 50 percent of the main pyramid, with the collaboration of a team of about 100 workers, most of whom live in Reforma.

Carlos Cajija Alvarez is one of the archaeologists' reliable men. Not only does he keep a list of the artifacts found, but he supervises the work of the other workers.

"Not just anyone can work here. Desperate people are not hired because here the requirement is to have patience," Cajija Alvarez told Efe, adding that he built houses before taking this job and getting an introduction to the mysterious world of archaeology.

The Maya civilization was at its height between 250 BC and 1000 AD and extended throughout the area comprising the current Mexican states of Tabasco, Chiapas, Campeche, Yucatan and Quintana Roo, as well as what are today the Central American countries of Belize, Guatemala, El Salvador and Honduras. EFE/Kristian Cerino.

Maya | Tabasco | Mexico | Campeche | Chiapas | Villahermosa | Guatemala | Calakmul |

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