Tikal: Temple V from North Acropolis

Structure 22 aligns perfectly with Temple V to the south [January 4, 1999. Photo by Jeff Purcell]

Peter Harrison makes a fascinating argument about the importance of city planning to the ancient Maya. He maintains that, in determining the placement for new buildings:

(1) Each building has a single critical point in its plan that determines the location for the new building. This point is the junction of the two lines that will be formed by the front wall of the building and the central axis through the central doorway. These lines intersect at right-angles. Their point of intersection is the location point of the building.

(2) Alignment of location points was apparently important to the Maya of TIkal, so that placement of a third building in alignment with the placement points of two earlier buildings demonstrated respect or honor of these earlier buildings.

(3) The placement of the location point is established by reference to the location points of two earlier buildings which have importance to the new building. The most common reason for importance is ancestry, that is, structures raised by ancestors who will be honored by this new building. The three points, two pre-existing and one new, are connected in an integral right triangle.

Knowledge of the movement of stars and of the calendar represented power to the elite class of the Maya because it related to essential food production. Knowledge and control of the manipulation of space likely was understood by every farmer who used it to lay out his milpa. At the elite level, it was used for the veneration of ancestors expressed by city planning.

In light of these observations, the layout of the city of Tikal is a massive expression of ancestral veneration over more than one-and-a-half millennia.

Peter Harrison, The Lords of Tikal, p. 187-191.