2008 World Monuments Watch
A center of power during two critical periods in the history of Maya civilization—the Late Preclassic (300 B.C.-A.D. 250) and Terminal Classic (A.D. 830-950)—Ceibal is the largest archaeological site in the southwestern Maya Lowlands. It consists of three groups of monumental structures, including plazas, pyramids, carved stone monuments, elite residences, and a ball court. The carved decoration at Ceibal is considered among the most beautiful in the Maya region, and includes a hieroglyphic stairway, stelae, and altars. The ancient city has deteriorated at an alarming rate since 1998, when groups of poor farmers invaded the protected park where the site is located, cutting down large areas of the rainforest and looting archaeological material. Drug runners have taken advantage of Ceibal's remote location to use the site as a narcotics distribution point. Although Ceibal was once considered one of the best-preserved Maya sites in Guatemala, it may soon become one of the most heavily damaged. A successful program to protect and preserve Ceibal will depend on raising local awareness of the importance of this and other archaeological sites in the region, and the long-term benefits of sustaining them.