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The Natural and Sacred World of Chocolá


A Unique Econiche
Lying literally in the shadows of active volcanoes, Chocolá is located in the upper reaches of the Guatemalan piedmont or Bocacosta, a narrow strip of land interlaced with fast-flowing rivers and situated between the volcano-rich Sierra Madre mountain chain and broad coastal plains sweeping to the Pacific. The Bocacosta is prime agricultural terrain; ethnohistory attests that the area was a great ancient breadbasket.

Today, coffee and sugar cane are the principal cash crops, but a wide variety of fruits and vegetables are cultivated for local consumption including avocado, cacao, maize, mandarin oranges, mangoes, and papaya as well as many delicious indigenous vegetables known by their Mayan names (chiltepe, huicoy, huiskil, pitaya). A visit to the Saturday market in adjacent larger towns (Santa Tomás and San Antonio Suchitepéquez) literally dazzles with the array of produce available.

One of the deepest rifts in the planet’s tectonics runs east to west through Guatemala to the north of Chocolá; the land is alive, with temblors shaking the old plantation buildings fairly frequently, and one can understand, in such an environs, why the ancient Maya conceived of the earth as a living entity. Many caves with natural springs flowing from them are witness to the undoubted power of the landscape anciently for the Maya at the dawning of their great civilization.

Birds and Other Animals
The countryside surrounding Chocolá remains rich in fauna, ranging from tropical birds to various indigenous mammals.


Plants
Chocolá lies in a rich agricultural region in which coffee is a key cash crop, although a wide variety of fruits and vegetables are produced for local consumption. In addition to crops of banana, coffee and rubber, southwestern Guatemala is rich with beautiful forest filled with exotic flowers and majestic canopy.


Water, Water, Water ... and Caves and Mountains/Witsob, too.
As essential (yet taken for granted!) as is water to Western consumers, anciently water was considered sacred to the Maya. With its astonishing superabundance of water in the form of 5 m of rain annually, fast-flowing, high-discharge streams and rivers, and many natural springs, judging from the decision apparently to locate edifices near water sources, in prehispanic times Chocolá must have been as much a human waterscape as a human landscape.

The extraordinary sophistication and scale of the hydraulics discovered by the project to date document the intelligence of the decision-making and the value placed on this resource by the ancient Chocolenses. The caves from which these springs emanate, and the mountains behind the town, belong to the most sacred ancient Maya template. As an Earthwatch volunteer from the 2005 season has observed, archaeoastromical evidence points still more emphatically to particular alignments of the heavenly bodies to this sacredly fertile landscape.

Accordingly, it is entirely reasonable to suppose that Chocolá was chosen as the site for a Maya version of Augustine’s City of God, with primordial Maya ideological innovations that grew from roots in the seminal Southern area, like the ceiba trees that once were numerous at the site, into a towering presence in Classic Maya times.

 
 

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