The history of the archaeological study of the Mayan cities
The first civilized people of America that the Spaniards encountered during the conquest of the lands of the western hemisphere were Maya. In 1517, on the rocky coast of Cape Katoch (Yucatan Peninsula), the first test of strength of two warring worlds occurred, separated from each other not only by the boundless expanses of the ocean, but also by whole epochs of historical development. Conquistadors armored in steel armor armed with European military equipment and tactics of those years agreed in a decisive battle with numerous armies of Maya Indians armed with spears and arrows with stone tips. The outcome of this unequal struggle was predetermined by history itself. But the Maya for many years fiercely defended their independence from the encroachments of foreign conquerors. Even in 1540, i.e. 20 years after the death of the powerful Aztec state, much of the Yucatan was still in the hands of the Indians.
When the first European set foot on Mexican land, the Aztec kingdom was at the zenith of its power, while a half dozen of the dwarf Mayan states experienced a clear decline: continuous civil wars, crop failures, epidemics devastated the once flourishing Yucatan provinces. Is it any wonder after this that the Spanish chroniclers paid their main attention not to the Mayans, but to the Aztecs? The scattered testimonies of the conquistadors themselves (Cortés, Bernal Díaz, Alonso Davila, and others), the fundamental work of Bishop Diego de Landa (1566), and some of the later authors ’reports are practically all that we have for studying the history of the ancient Maya. Yes, and these few eyewitness accounts relate only to the latest stages of the development of local culture. Cities of the classical period (I millennium AD) turned into ruins and were absorbed by the jungle long before the arrival of the conquistadors. HU! at. they were forgotten even by the closest descendants of people who once lived there, not to mention the Spaniards. And then the conquest with all its violence and horrors rolled over the land of the Maya. This conquest, as well as the fanatical Spanish Inquisition, almost completely destroyed the thousand-year tradition of high Indian culture, the last stage of development of which could be seen in Yucatan by members of the expeditions of Cordoba (1517), Grihalva (1518), Cortes (1519) ) and Montejo (1527).
The conquistadors observed and conveyed to us in their enthusiastic descriptions an impressive picture of the populous stone cities of the Yucatan Mayans – Champoton, Campeche, Thonchan, Chetumal, Sama, etc. But to what extent can one rely on their evidence? After all, all the splendor of the original Indian civilization was soon swept away and destroyed by the hands of the same people. There is no need to talk about any scientific research of the Maya’s past in that period. Conquerors and clergymen engaged in plundering the colossal riches of the newly discovered continent could hardly be carried away by the search for monuments of ancient pagan cultures. It is not surprising that already in 100–200 years after the Conquest, the very fact of the existence in ancient times of a highly developed civilization in the territory of Maya was completely forgotten.
Separate random discoveries such as the description of the ancient city of Copan (Honduras) by the Spanish official Diego Garcia Palacio (1576) or the expedition of captain Antonio del Rio to the ruins of the site of ancient settlement Palenque (Chiapas, Mexico) in the 18th century.  little has changed in the picture of complete oblivion of a once brilliant civilization.
In 1839, an American traveler and diplomat John Lloyd Stephens set off into the depths of the tropical forests of Central America. Having overcome numerous difficulties on his way, he rediscovered and described not only the previously mentioned Kopan and Palenque, but also a number of other ancient Mayan settlements: Uxmal, Chichen-Itza, etc. He later described the results of his travels in an exciting and colorful book, and the well-documented drawings of the English artist F. Kazerwood, the constant companion of Stephens in all his wanderings, gave her additional authenticity. Considering the enormous resonance that the book of Stephens caused in Europe and the United States, we can rightly say that it was he who initiated the truly scientific study of Mayan monuments.
In the second half of the XIX – early XX century. Mayan lowland forest areas, deserted and impassable, were systematically visited by various travelers and explorers from many countries in Europe and America. The results of the work of the expeditions of the Englishman A.P. Maudsley and Austrians (who lived in Mexico since 1867 and worked for money received from a number of US scientific institutions) T. Mahler. The first of them, having visited such major Mayan sites of the classical period as Copan, Quirigua, Tikal, Palenque and others, made fairly accurate plans for their central sections, sketched and photographed the main architectural structures, stone sculptures and epigraphy. The second one – discovered and researched over 30 new settlements, including such important ones as Piedras Negras, Naranjo, Altar de Sacrifisios and others.