Comalcalco Archaeological Zone
Meaning “place of the house with the grills,” Comalcalco (10 a.m.–5 p.m. daily, US$3) is set in the lush green hills of Tabasco’s countryside. Evidence suggests the area was settled as early as 800 B.C., and may have formed part of the Olmec civilization, well to the west. It’s primary Maya occupation began around A.D 250 and peaked around A.D. 750 or 800. Similarities between structures here and in Palenque suggest Comalcalco was an outpost of that great city.
Comalcalco is unique among the Maya archaeological sites because instead of using heavy cut stone, the Mayas built the structures using thousands of kiln-fired bricks. They bear a striking resemblance to modern-day bricks—in fact that is exactly what archaeologists used to restore some sections. The cores of the pyramids aren’t piled rocks either, but packed earth. There was simply no stone in this marshy region to use.
Comalcalco’s early residents built temples out of dirt mixed with oyster shells for strength and cohesion. The distinctive kilned bricks were developed A.D. 500–700 and were used to expand and elaborate the packed-dirt temples. Many of the bricks were incised with designs, including animals, humans, glyphs, and patterns, though for the most part the bricks themselves were covered in a thick layer of stucco painted red, blue, green, yellow, and black, which has long since eroded.
Temple I, the immense structure on the left as you walk in from the entrance, has the best remaining example of the stucco high relief that once covered most of the structures. Look for the animal figures along the pyramid’s southeast corner as well as a molded skull about halfway up the main stairway. The facial features of these figures are unique, with thick, strangely shaped lips, somewhat resembling the colossal heads in La Venta, yet vastly different in style. Today, these valuable remnants of history are covered with glass and have been roofed over to deter further deterioration.
Opposite Temple I, the Great Acropolis sits 80 meters (262 feet) long and has a stucco mask of the Kinich Ahau, the sun god. To the right, walk up a hill to the Palace, which reveals a panoramic view of the countryside, including unexcavated mounds and a chocolate plantation in the distance.
A small but very interesting museum sits at the entrance to the site. Inside, you’ll find excellent artifacts as well as a few human skeletons found by workers while excavating the site.
© Gary Chandler & Liza Prado from Moon Yucatán Peninsula, 9th edition