Tikal Temple1 2006 08 11.JPG
Tikal Temple I rises 47 metres (154 ft) high.[1]
Alternative nameYax Mutal
LocationFlores, Petén DepartmentGuatemala
RegionPetén Basin
Coordinates17°13′19″N 89°37′25″W / 17°13′19″N 89°37′25″W / 17.22194; -89.62361
PeriodsEarly Classic to Late Classic
CulturesMaya civilization
Official nameTikal National Park
Criteriai, iii, iv, ix, x
Designated1979 (3rd 64
State PartyGuatemala
RegionLatin America and the Caribbean

Tikal (l/) (Tik’al in modern Mayan orthography) is the ruin of an ancient city, which was likely to have been called Yax Mutal, found in a rainforest in Guatemala.[2] It is one of the largest archaeological sites and urban centers of the pre-Columbian Maya civilization. It is located in the archaeological region of the Petén Basin in what is now northern Guatemala. Situated in the department of El Petén, the site is part of Guatemala's Tikal National Park and in 1979 it was declared a UNESCO World Heritage Site.[3]

Tikal was the capital of a conquest state that became one of the most powerful kingdoms of the ancient Maya.[4] Though monumental architecture at the site dates back as far as the 4th century BC, Tikal reached its apogee during the Classic Period, c. 200 to 900 AD. During this time, the city dominated much of the Maya region politically, economically, and militarily, while interacting with areas throughout Mesoamerica such as the great metropolis of Teotihuacan in the distant Valley of Mexico. There is evidence that Tikal was conquered by Teotihuacan in the 4th century CE.[5] Following the end of the Late Classic Period, no new major monuments were built at Tikal and there is evidence that elite palaces were burned. These events were coupled with a gradual population decline, culminating with the site’s abandonment by the end of the 10th century.

Tikal is the best understood of any of the large lowland Maya cities, with a long dynastic ruler list, the discovery of the tombs of many of the rulers on this list and the investigation of their monuments, temples and palaces.[6]


Emblem glyph for Tikal (Mutal)

The name Tikal may be derived from ti ak'al in the Yucatec Maya language; it is said to be a relatively modern name meaning "at the waterhole". The name was apparently applied to one of the site's ancient reservoirs by hunters and travelers in the region.[7] It has alternatively been interpreted as meaning "the place of the voices" in the Itza Maya language. Tikal, however, is not the ancient name for the site but rather the name adopted shortly after its discovery in the 1840s.[8] Hieroglyphic inscriptions at the ruins refer to the ancient city as Yax Mutal or Yax Mutul, meaning "First Mutal".[7] Tikal may have come to have been called this because Dos Pilas also came to use the same emblem glyph; the rulers of the city presumably wanted to distinguish themselves as the first city to bear the name.[9] The kingdom as a whole was simply called Mutul,[10] which is the reading of the "hair bundle" emblem glyph seen in the accompanying photo. Its precise meaning remains obscure.[7]