In late February and early March I took two groups of family and friends to my favorite local archeological site. Over the course of the past fifteen years I have probably visited Dzibilchaltún 20 times, but these two trips offered me new insights into this phenomenal site.
During my first visit way back in 2004, I was astounded that the ancient Maya had this level of knowledge. Their knowledge of astronomy was centuries ahead of Europe. These ‘primitive’ people could accurately predict celestial events with an accuracy that equals the best computers of today.
All of this science and technology is exhibited by the iconic photos of the sun rising through the main doorways of the Temple of the Seven Dolls on the days of the vernal and autumnal equinoxes. But that is merely the tip of the iceberg that is the story of this site. It is so much more.
During the first visit this year, our group was comprised of two guests from Arizona, my wife, and me. To better have the site explained we engaged a guide. We opted for the longer tour – approximately 90 minutes. Our guide talked about the history of the site but he also took the time to introduce us to the biodiversity of the Maya world. We were shown the stingless bees of the region. He showed us some of the native plants and trees that were used medicinally and others that had important uses in daily life. All in all, the guide’s presentation greatly added to our appreciation of this wonderful site.
On our next visit, we went with some family members from Pennsylvania. We again hired a guide for the tour because the guide at the previous visit had proven to be so informative. The second guide focused on the history of the site much more than did the first. We learned that the Temple of the Seven Dolls was only found after removing the rubble of a much newer structure that had been built over it. The original temple dates back to circa 300 BC, while the newer one was probably built around the second century AD.
As we learned that day, the Temple of the Seven Dolls is not just a place to see the sun rising on the equinox, but also the place to see the sun rise on the winter and summer solstices. The accuracy of the placement and construction of this temple cannot be overstated, for it has stood the test of time for over two thousand years. Is it any wonder that our visitors from Tucson said you could feel the power here as soon as you walked onto the sacbé, or “white way,” that runs the entire length of the site?
One would think that after visiting the site so many times over the years, one would grow somewhat jaded; but that is not the case. Dzibilchaltún continues to have much to offer, both for the new visitor and those of us who have visited often.
By Gil Beyer
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