National Geographic : 2007 Aug
never be resettled, and with its obliteration the Maya world crossed a divide. Instead of reestablishing order, wars would create greater disorder; instead of one ruler emerging triumphant from a decisive battle, each conflict simply created more pretenders. Victories, instead of inspiring new monuments and temples, were transient and, increasingly, unremarked. Defeats spurred desperate citizens to rip apart their ceremonial buildings, using the stones and fill to build redoubts in hopes of staving off future invaders. Cities no longer rebuilt and rebounded. They simply ceased to exist. Smaller states tried to assert themselves in the spreading chaos, but none could. Instead, the warring states sought temporary advantage in a land of dwindling resources. The commoners prob ably hid, fled, or died. For a time, fleeing nobles could find refuge in Cancuen, a quiet port at the headwaters of the Pasi6n River. Even as downriver cities sank into chaos during the eighth century, Cancuen prospered by trading luxury items and providing sumptuous lodgings for elite visitors. The architect of this golden age was King Taj Chan Ahk, who came to power in 757 at the age of 15. Cancuen had a long history as a strategic trading post, but Taj Chan Ahk transformed the city into 108 NATIONAL GEOGRAPHIC * AUGUST 2007 A Royal Treasure One of the last great kings of Cancuen, Taj Chan Ahk, presides over a ceremony in September 795 on a recently uncovered mas terpiece of Maya art. With hundreds of sites still to be investigated, many more such testaments to the glory of the Maya civiliza tion await discovery.