A site called Ceibal in Guatemala is the oldest Mayan ceremonial compound in Central America’s lowlands and is now believed to have functioned as a solar observatory for rituals. It also suggests that the origins of the Maya civilization are more complex than first believed.
Archaeologists hotly debate whether the Maya -- famous for their complex calendar system that spurred apocalypse rumors last year -- developed independently or whether they were largely inspired by an earlier culture known as the Olmec.
According to Discovery News:
"This major social change happened through interregional interactions," said study researcher Takeshi Inomata, an anthropologist at the University of Arizona. But it doesn't look like the Olmec inspired the Maya, Inomata told reporters. Rather, the entire region went through a cultural shift around 1000 B.C., with all nearby cultures adopting similar architectural and ceremonial styles.
"It's signaling to us that the Maya were not receiving this sophisticated stuff 500 years later from somebody else, but much of the innovation we're seeing out of the whole region may be coming out of Ceibal or a place like Ceibal," said Walter Witschey, an anthropologist at Longwood University in Virginia, who was not involved in the study.
The finding comes from seven years of archaeological excavations at Ceibal, which was occupied continuously for 2,000 years.