Archaeology Monday (pt.6): Chicanna

Welcome to "Archaeology Monday" our newest feature here on Check back every week for a new profile and photos of some of our favourite archaeological sites!

Anyone with even the most basic cursory knowledge of the Maya know that southern Campeche is "Rio Bec" land. Twin tower complexes and elaborate stucco work is often associated with this style of architecture, but when I think of Rio Bec what comes to mind is the "Monstruo de la tierra" or the "Earth Monster". Now I am well aware that Monstruo de la tierra facades are not exclusively found in the Rio bec region as they can be found as far afield as northern Yucatan as sites such as Ek-Balamb and as far west in Chiapas at the enormous palace complex in Tonina Chiapas (just outside ocosingo). That being said the Rio Bec region is full of stunning examples of this most interesting feature at a great many sites such as Hochob, El Hormiguero and of course Chicanna. The latter of these sites in my opinion provides the best preserved and most quintessential example of this depiction. While at Ek-balam the "Monster of the Earth" is depicted in stucco with winged figures all around, In Tonina it resembles more of an altar, in Chicanna it is presented perhaps in its most pure form; made of well preserved limestone which encompasses the entire facade of the structure.

It is generally accepted that depictions of the “monster of the earth” were heavily associated with the netherworld of Xibalbá (the hidden place). The open mouth of this anthropomorphized primal power simultaneously invited one into this other world, but it's hard to not notice is menacing demeanor and powerful jaws and teeth. The implication is clear, this is a gateway to a sacred place and you must not take it lightly. There is much conjecture regarding these figured and many theories regarding similar manifestations found at the entrances of caves which are very literally entrances to the underworld, but the paucity of primary sources means that we are left with little more than conjecture and educated guesses. If only the works of the “Mayan Pliny, Herodotus or Tacitus” had survived.

Though this aforementioned structure is by far the most famous aspect of the site, Chicanna has of course many other interesting features to explore. For example near the entrance to the site one is sure to stumble upon a impressive multi level temple which preserves much of its original facade and a large amount of Chaac rain god masks protruding from its upper level. As the site is “Rio Bec” it also possesses a characteristic large two tower complex, however little of the towers themselves are still erect.

Chicanna is only one of the many amazing sites such as Chicanna, Becan, Balamku, Dzibanche.and many more which we will be visiting on our Southern Campeche & Quintana Roo Archaeology & Wild-Life Experience (Feb 20th to the 25th, 2020). Space is still available but it is filling up fast! For more information email Carlos at

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