A Massive Mexican Rail Project Reveals Ancient Maya City Near Cancún

Massive Mexican Rail Project Reveals Ancient Maya City

The construction of Mexico’s ambitious Maya Train project, which began in 2020, has faced significant opposition from environmentalists while trying to lay tracks across the Yucatán peninsula. However, amidst these challenges, the project has led to a remarkable archaeological discovery. In section five of the railroad construction, between Playa del Carmen and Tulum, an ancient Maya city has been unearthed. The site, referred to as “Paamul II” by officials, boasts over 300 buildings, some of which stand at a height of more than 26 feet.

During a recent news briefing, Diego Prieto, the director of Mexico’s National Institute of Anthropology and History (INAH), presented the findings of an archaeological survey conducted along section five. Schematic maps depicting the possible appearance of the settlement were showcased, shedding light on the layout and structures of the ancient city.

To protect this significant archaeological site, engineering adjustments are being made to the southern part of section five. Only 11 percent of the archaeological review has been completed so far, suggesting that there may be more discoveries awaiting excavation.

A Massive Mexican Rail Project Reveals Ancient Maya City Near Cancún A Maya pyramid in Calakmul in southeastern Mexico, Maya Train route.
A Maya pyramid in Calakmul in southeastern Mexico, Maya Train route. |Image Source: Andrea Sosa/picture alliance via Getty Images

Divers are actively involved in the project, working to recover valuable artifacts and ensuring the safety of the excavation in the presence of subterranean rivers and cenotes (natural sinkholes) in the area. Notably, the divers have already uncovered a considerable amount of Pleistocene fauna from the Ice Age in the caverns.

The ancient maya city will be safeguarded as an ecological and archaeological corridor, and many of the recovered relics will be exhibited in museums. A dedicated museum for “Maya Train discoveries” is also planned to showcase the historical significance of the findings.

The Maya Train project initially aimed to connect Yucatán’s historical sites and promote tourism beyond the confines of all-inclusive resorts. Alstom, the company overseeing the project, considers it a pivotal endeavor for Mexico’s rail network, emphasizing the preservation of natural areas, ecosystems, and the environment, as well as the safeguarding of local indigenous cultures.

As the construction progresses along various sections of the railroad, over 25,000 “immovable assets” have been unearthed, including ancient roads, 431 ceramic pots, and 423 human burial remains.

Despite the project’s objectives, environmentalists have expressed concerns about its potential adverse effects. The Mexican government adjusted the railroad’s route earlier this year, moving it further inland due to complaints from the business community in Playa del Carmen. However, activists have protested against the modified route, citing the significant clearing of virgin forest required for construction.

Laura Patiño Esquivel, the president of the environmental group Moce Yax Cuxtal, highlighted the fragile ecosystem of the area, with subterranean rivers, cenotes, and a diverse jungle habitat that supports various flora and fauna, including jaguars. Concerns about the lack of environmental impact studies and the potential consequences on this delicate ecosystem have been raised.

Presently, the construction of the railroad is on hold as the archaeological survey continues. Officials, however, reassure that the train is still expected to be operational by December 2023.

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