Usumacinta River Cultural Landscape: A Cultural Landscape at Risk

The Usumacinta River defines the border between Guatemala and the Mexican state of Chiapas, but in antiquity its waters lay between the rival Maya cities of Piedras Negras and Yaxchilán. Both capitals flourished during the Late Classic Period (A.D. 600–900) and most of the monumental architecture dates from their climax in the eighth century, including temple pyramids, ball courts, stelae, and magnificent limestone sculptures. The sites also possess carved hieroglyphic reliefs that illuminate the politics and mythology of Maya civilization.

All of the Maya sites in the Usumacinta River Valley are affected by erosion, looting, and overgrowth, and there is constant pressure to use land for grazing. Because of these threats, WMF Watch-listed the landscape and participated in an international coalition to create an overall preservation strategy and management plan that included tourism promotion, visitor protection, and local involvement in addition to individual conservation projects. On the ground, WMF organized training workshops for caretakers and continues to contribute funding and expertise to both sites and to advocate for the preservation of this remarkable cultural landscape.