There is a very unusual museum tucked away in the hotel known as the Posada de Don Rodrigo. Inside is the Museo La Custre and both are located at the foot of Calle Santander in Panajachel, Guatemala. There are many Mayan ceramic artifacts but they’re not like any others you’ll see elsewhere. With an entrance fee of $4.40, the entire exhibit consists of pottery and stone works brought up from a sunken Maya ceremonial center that was originally an island in Lake Atitlan.
The contents have been taken out of what was apparently a large temple complex that was inundated over 2000 years ago, and located some 500 yards off the existing shore line. The exact location, now some 70 feet underwater, is guarded and kept secret to all but a few professional archeologist-divers, working with the Scripps Oceanography Institute of California.
The site was originally found in 1996 by a local diver named Roberto Samayoa who kept finding broken Mayan pots as he gradually explored various parts of the lake, until one day he found what appeared to be a village consisting of stone, mostly intact. Unbelieved at first, Mr. Samajoya, a recreational diver in his spare time, gradually convinced people of what he’d found. As the news of his find, which he named Samabaj, gradually spread via international newspapers (Reuters, Oct, 2009) other international organizations came to Lake Atitlan with money, boats and diving professionals.
The actual site, some 4000 square feet in size, contains not only what appear to be temples but also ceremonial uses such as stone yokes usually found in conjunction with the Mayan ball game known as pok-ta-pok. A more recent find is a carved stone post or stele, typical of Maya architectural and ritual use. These stelae were carved with glyphs (symbols) indicating the dates and sometimes the names of a ruler, a city or a particular event: the monument, as found some 50 feet below the surface, has not been deciphered. The island itself is thought to have been submerged by either an earthquake or some other volcanic event, which apparently happened suddenly per the lack of damage to the buildings and the condition of the pottery. It may well be that the water level of the lake, through an unknown event, simply rose, cutting off access to the island, which is thought to have happened around 200 A.D.
The ceramics, as found so far, date from as early as 100 B.C when the Maya civilization was beginning to flower. There are reportedly several altars and more carved monuments to be uncovered. Only in the last few years has there been any systematic exploration of what’s been called an important ceremonial site, and that’s been accomplished by a small team of divers. If and when an ancient stone signpost of the past is raised or understood, the clues as to who built this enigma, and possibly the names of the temples might be told: the gods remain the same and the stars still shine on the dark blue waters of Lake Atitlan, just as they did some 2000 years ago.
Sources:Maya Relief Foundation, the Museo La Custre, Reuters