The great lost Pre-Classic Maya
city of Chocolá, covering more than 50 square kilometers, lies on a
ridge beside the Chocolá river. On the high ground of the site are
buried Maya temple and plazas and residences of ancient Maya nobility
while further down the slope are what is believed to be the living
areas of artisans and workers.
The modern village of Chocolá and one of Guatemala’s most historically
important pioneer German coffee fincas (Finca Chocolá) straddle the
center of the great buried city.
Founded in the 1890's and becoming one of the most successful coffee
operations in the world, but then abandoned by the German pioneer
families during World War II under pressure from the US government, the
historical coffee processing plant (“Beneficio”) is now operated by a
local farmer cooperative created as a part of land reform in the post
WW II period. The Beneficio is a classic example of a factory completed
powered by a gigantic water wheel which in its heyday ran the coffee
sorters, roasters, a machine shop and a lumber mill. Although the
Beneficio is community owned and still operates, it is the victim of
deferred maintenance and in serious need of restoration if it is to
continue to remain a part of the local economy. If it fails, the
community will fall deeper into poverty.
The people of the Chocolá village are industrious and excellent
farmers. Most are direct descendants of highland Maya who gravitated to
Chocolá to work at Finca Chocolá between 1890 and 1940. While once a
prosperous community in the days when coffee from Central America
commanded good prices in world markets, farmers are today paid
miserably for what they produce. We are working together with the
community to explore economic development strategies that reduce their
total dependency on coffee.
The ancient Maya site beneath the feet of modern Chocolenses is truly
immense. Archaeologists have periodically surveyed and begun to unearth
a complex of mounds and plazas that date back to the pre-classic Maya
Period (1,800 BC to 250 AD). Work begun in 2004 yielded very important preliminary findings
indicating that Chocolá may have been a center for the social, economic
and cultural developments that lead to the rise of the Classic Maya. It
may have also been a commercial center of a thriving cacao trade and
for the first Maya study of astronomy.
Recent work by Harold Green presented to the 2007 Maya Meetings at the
University of Texas, Austin hypothecates convincingly that Mayan
astronomers in Chocolá appear to have worked out some of the basic
principles that are foundational in the Maya concept of time and use of
the sun as a marker to calculate the “long count” which in turn lead to
some of the most advanced mathematics and astronomy in the new world.
Today, Semillas Para El Futuro and its U.S. affiliates Seeds for a Future are
working with the community to save the archaeological site, restore the
water powered coffee beneficio and reinvigorate the village economy. A
core strategy is to have the entire archaeological site and the German
Beneficio declared a national historical site while simultaneously
protecting the property rights and economic future of the people of
Chocolá. Enrique Mateau, Guatemalan Minister of Culture sees the effort
in Chocolá as a challenging but exciting model program which on the one
hand could protect and refurbish these important historical sites and
on the other, improve the quality of life of the community and make
them partners in a major archaeological-tourism site.