Xel-Ha's Mayan ruins Just across the highway from the Xel-Ha lagoon
Text courtesy of the Mexican: Instituto Nacional de Antropología e Historia (INAH)
Close to Xel-Ha lagoon
Xel-ha ruins are close to the lagoon and should not be missed by those who want to delve deeper into the history of this significant coastal location. The ancient Maya used Xel-ha lagoon as a maritime port of call. The Xel-ha ruins are across highway 307 and have several small stone temples and two cenotes. The entire site can seen in approximately an hour and there is seldom anyone there.
Groupo Lothrop was constructed during the Late Post-Classic (1200-1550 AD). It consists of bases and platforms with stairways used for residences and shrines. At the side of these bases you can see, almost at ground level, a hewn-stone building with an ellipsoidal floor plan. It is the only example of this type of construction so far found in Xel-ha and its function is unknown.
Pintura Mural 1 is a series of red panels which frame two scenes separated by a column which you can see the glyph "Ahau" which means chief or lord and is the name of a day. The composition includes two types of birds flying over a building remindful of cages. One group of these birds belongs to a species of yellow parrots having short tails and yellow beaks; the other shows red birds with yellow wings, long tails and black beaks. The composition of images in this mural speaks of an allegory of nature. It is colored in yellow and sienna red all on a white background. The mural was done during the Early Classic (300-600 AD)
Pintura Mural 2 is a symmetrical composition divided into four rectangles. The first makes up what looks like a checkerboard with red, gray and yellow squares. The main motif is a huge anthropomorphic figure shown from the chest up and painted sienna red, turquoise blue, white and yellow. The front view head dons a headdress which has a horizontal strip garnished with feathers and a spiral in the middle. The figure wears bracelets and necklaces. This composition shows stylistic influences from Teotihuacan and dates from the Early Classic (300-600 AD)
El Palacio encloses the plaza's southeast side and has several constructional stages. The first includes a rectangular base with rounded corners and sloped walls. Two rooms entered form the east and west were built atop it. The west room has an entrance with two wide pilasters which form three door openings. The ceilings in both rooms were vaulted, but today nothing remains. Later, a series of stone overlays were added to the building. There are two interconnecting rooms on the north side. The entrance is composite and the rooms were once reached by a wide stairway. Finally, all of the rooms were walled over with large stones, thus transforming the building into a large platform, perhaps to hold a residence built with perishable materials.
Foliage surrounds the ruins with palms and other native trees. Shown in these photos are the fabric of a palm and sap oozing from a tree, the begining of amber which is often used to make jewelry (below).
Amber in the making
This group lies on a rise in the land and is the largest at the site (below). There is a wide variety of constructions, residential platforms, stone buildings and altars to be seen here. Study of recovered shards has shown that the site was dwelt in from 100 BC to 400 AD. It reached its peak during the Early and Middle Classic Periods (400-600/700 AD)
Here you view a feline figure (below) in a descending posture with its head looking straight out and paws spread. This reminds us of the diving deity known as Ah Mucen Kab, who was closely related to bees and honey. The figure is colored in red and yellow and outlined in black paint. It dates from the Late Post-Classic (1200-1450 AD)
The feline face
Origin of the name Xel-ha
Xel-ha in the Maya language stands for inlet and refers to its position on one of the largest coves on the East coast of the Yucatan Peninsula. The first dwellings in Xel-ha date back to 100 BC through 400 AD and were not monumental, but consisted mostly of houses made of thatch and wood. Later, between 400-700 AD a more complex and organized society consolidated creating masonry buildings in the style of the Peten and Belize regions. These buildings formed closed plazas and also several elite residential structures. At the time, Xel-ha was a populous pre-Hispanic village on Quintana Roo's eastern shores.
History and trade by canoe
Between 700 and 1200 AD Xel-ha had connections with other inner cities of central Yucatan. These ties are clearly seen in pottery and in a different style of architecture which covered the old buildings. From these periods until the arrival of the Spaniards in 1527, Xel-ha became part of the province Ecab.
The "Jaguar Group", the "A" and "B" groups and the "Pier" date to this period. The main architectural traits known as the "East Coast Style" are small temples with vaulted or flat roofs, inset lintels and slightly slanted walls on the outside. Also a profuse use of stucco was used to cover the imperfections of poor masonry. Some altars were built near the water line or inside caves and cenotes.
Evidence gathered from the archaeological work done at the site concludes that Xel-ha was inhabited in a continuous way from the pre-Classic Period until the arrival of the Spaniards. The conquerors brought along diseases unknown to indigenous people that decimated the population in a hasty manner.
There are 2 cenote freshwater pools within the Xel-ha archaeological site. The larger of the two is toward the western edge of the ruins and has interesting ruin structures right next to it. This area is easily accessible via paths through the site. More on Xel-ha lagoon