Gallery: The Maya Who Escaped Spanish Conquest

Scientific American October 2020

The Lacandon Maya eluded the conquistadors and survived in the jungle for hundreds of years. Archaeological discoveries are revealing their past

Some 550 years ago the last of the great city-states of the Maya civilization that had flourished in the Americas for centuries met their demise. As drought and warfare tore apart the social and political fabric and the Spanish conquistadors began claiming Maya land for plantations and subjugating Maya people to work on them, many residents of storied stone cities such as Yaxchilan and Palenque fled to the countryside in search of a better life. Ultimately they founded a host of new Maya cultures. Some people, known as the Lacandon Maya, established themselves in the forests around Lake Mensabak in the southern Mexican state of Chiapas. Their descendants still live in this region today. They are the Hach Winik, “the true people” in Yucatec Mayan.

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