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The preclassic Maya were also just as sophisticated artistically and culturally as their successors: Some of the stucco panels in a frieze at El Mirador depict the “Hero Twins,” the protagonists of the Mayan creation myth that would be written down nearly 1,500 years later in the , one of the few surviving Mayan narrative texts.And as Hansen and other archaeologists later discovered, instead of practicing relatively inefficient slash-and-burn agriculture, which requires farmers to move their fields every few years as the soil becomes exhausted, the Maya of the Mirador Basin constructed terraces into which they hauled nutrient-rich mud from nearby swamps, enabling the cultivation of dense harvests of corn, squash, chili peppers, and beans that could feed tens of thousands of people on limited acreage.The gigantic El Mirador complex had first been discovered in 1926, and it was assumed that owing to its sheer size and elaborate layout, it represented yet another classic-period city like Tikal, only in worse condition.
“The looting, the poaching, the narco-trafficking, the prostitution, and all of the ills that come along with all of that.” (Hansen has for years pitched the construction of a small train that would cut the non-helicopter travel time to eight hours and provide some tourist business to Carmelita and other villages, so far to no avail.) But those who have managed to visit La Danta and its surrounding ruins have come away overwhelmed at the huge monument-studded area that might have supported as many as one million people during its heyday.
“That ceramic was only produced in the Mirador Basin, and I was the first one who identified that,” he says.