Idaho State University graduate student J. Craig Argyle
poses next to the 2,300-year-old stucco frieze found at the
El Mirador archaeological site in northern Guatemala.
Photo courtesy of Richard Hansen/FARES

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ISU Grad Student Makes Discovery

Mirador Basin has been fertile ground for ISU researchers

In a quest to save Guatemala’s Mirador Basin Region, Idaho State University anthropology professor Richard Hansen continues to make remarkable Mayan archeological discoveries garnering worldwide attention.

Earlier this year, the Guatemalan government announced a number of major finds, including an ancient roof comb created in 500 B.C. The decorative panel on the summit of a pyramid structure is accompanied by two 26-foot long intricately decorated stucco panels crafted in 300 B.C.

“These recent finds are changing entirely our understanding of the developmental history of the Mayans,” said Hansen, who heads ISU’s Institute for Mesoamerican Research and the Foundation for Anthropological Research and Environmental Studies (FARES) based in Rupert. “We’re looking at exquisite art created 500 and 300 years before Christ by the Maya.”

The panels were discovered by Idaho State University anthropology graduate student J. Craig Argyle, who was investigating water collection systems. ISU students have participated in the Mirador Basin Project the last several years.

The announcement of these discoveries was featured in media outlets throughout the United States and abroad, from MSNBC to the Reuters news service.

Hansen is passionate about protecting the Mirador Basin, and involving locals in the management of the area. Many groups, including some major international “conservation groups,” favor logging and settling the area, actions which make as much sense to Hansen as “using the Grand Canyon as a landfill for Los Angeles or strip-mining Yellowstone National Park.”

“We can generate hundreds of millions of dollars more by preserving the area than by resource exploitation of any kind,” Hansen said. “It behooves us to look at the economic model we’ve proposed and our justification for saving it.”

Among the Mirador Basin’s more impressive attributes, Hansen notes:

  • it is home to the largest and earliest cities in the Mayan world;
  • it is the last tract of virgin rainforest left in Central America;
  • it has one of the greatest densities of wild jaguars left in the entire world;
  • it is home of the largest pyramids in the world;
  • it is the first state-level society in the Western Hemisphere; and
  • it is one of the five founding civilizations in the world.