Tikal: The Great Pyramid (5C-54)

The Great Pyramid (Structure 5C-54) of Tikal
Fig. W0825: The Great Pyramid (Structure 5C-54)
Rising high above the jungle canopy, structure 5C-54, which is more commonly known as the Great Pyramid, is the tallest and grandest structure in the area known as the Mundo Perdido (Lost World). The Great Pyramid’s history stretches back as long as that of Tikal’s monumental construction, with substructures dating back to the Late Preclassic Period, around 600 BC.

Structure 5C-54 stands at 31m (102 feet) tall, consists  of 10 levels and was one of the largest monuments in Mesoamerica. With an integrated staircase on the western face, which was flanked by huge masks, and and steep sloping tiers with rounded edges, the Great Pyramid fits the typical Mayan style, unlike neighbouring structure 5C-49, which has a protruding staircase and talud-tablero style tiers. However, the pyramid is vastly different to how it looked in its first phase, where it only stood 3 metres tall and consisted of 3 tiers. 

The second phase of the pyramid was completed in the 6th century BC and doubled its height, although it only added one extra tier. Beneath the surface platform, two males were buried without any offerings, making it a complete mystery as to who they were or the reasons for them being buried in such a prominent building. The best conclusion is that the were sacrificed to bless the building. 

The third phase was completed between the 4th and 2nd centuries BC and extended the number of tiers to six and made the height just short of 10 metres. The third pyramid was built to a far more advanced level and resembled much of what you can see in the lower 6 sections of fig. W0825, with four smaller sloped levels, then a large tablero style level, followed by an even bigger section which supported the huge masks either side of the stairway. You can still see the bulging shape of the masks, however they have eroded so badly, that even close up it is not possible to tell what they resembled.

The fourth phase was completed completed between the 200 BC and 200 AD and added two more tiers, but almost doubled its height, making it 18m. Unfortunately, it was structurally unsound and didn’t last very long, being replaced by the fifth phase by 250 AD. Initially the fifth phase kept the 8 tiered design, but in the 4th century two further tiers were added, making the Great Pyramid 30.7m tall and the largest structure in Tikal.

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