UNESCO Exploring Underwater Mayan Heritage

Guatemala is a gorgeous country with a rich Mayan history, particularly around Lake Atitlán (and the more famous Tikal). The country will now be home to a UNESCO project toking at best practices for underwater archaeology. The main idea is to work with the local population to ensure cultural sensitivity and to match that care with environmental concerns. When the practices are outlined UNESCO will expand their underwater archeology knowledge to the world’s researchers with some locations already identified.

UNESCO’s technical mission to Lake Atitlán (southwest of Guatemala) will take place in the autumn. It will be funded by Spain and will be carried out by the experts of the Scientific and Technical Advisory Body of UNESCO’s Convention on the Protection of the Underwater Cultural Heritage. María Helena Barba Meinecke, head of the Yucatan Peninsula underwater heritage programme of Mexico’s National Institute of Anthropology and History will lead the mission, which will examine the archaeological sites in the lake and propose a management plan in consultation with the local communities, for whom these vestiges are of great cultural importance.

Several submerged archaeological sites were discovered in 1996 in Lake Atitlán, the deepest lake in Central America. Among them is a Mayan villages known as Samabaj, which retains the remains of domestic structures and religious monuments. The village appears to have been built on an island that was submerged, possibly because of a volcanic eruption, a landslide or another natural disaster.

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