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Heritage and Historic Preservation

The Maya Archaeology

The great Maya city of Chocolá lies on a ridge between the Chocolá and Chicoy rivers. Truly immense, it comprises a complex of mounds and plazas that date to the pre-classic Maya Period (1,800 BC to 250 AD).  Descending in nine great terraces, the site contains three zones of still-buried Maya temples and plazas, the residences of ancient Maya nobility and the living areas of artisans and workers. The modern village of Chocolá and one of Guatemala’s most historically important pioneer German coffee fincas lie in the center of the great buried city, in what is thought to have been the area of administration and commerce.

Work begun in 2004 produced important preliminary findings indicating that Chocolá may have been a center for the social, economic and cultural developments that came to full flower in the Classic period. It is believed that Chocolá’s wealth and power, evidenced by its great size, was derived from its pivotal position in the production and trade of cacao, which held a high position in Maya rituals of religion and power.

Recent work by Harold Green presented to the 2007 Maya Meeting 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.  Even more dramatic, this research indicates that important sites from later periods were built in alignment, not with the heavens above them, but in concordance with structures at Chocolá!

The Industrial Archaeology

The first modern title to what became Finca Chocolá was given in 1835 to José Guardiola, who invented a number of processes and machines which are still important in coffee processing today.  During the 1890's many German families came to Guatemala and played a significant role in the industrialization of Guatemala.  One such family bought Finca Chocolá and built it into one of the most successful coffee operations in the world.  As a result of pressure from the US government during World War II, the Guatemalan government took control of the finca.  Today, the historical coffee processing plant (“Beneficio”) is operated by a local farmer cooperative created as a part of land reform in the early 1980s.   The German-engineered Beneficio is a classic example of a factory completely powered by water from the Rio Chocolá.  To this day, the giant water wheel runs coffee sorters, roasters, a machine shop and a lumber mill, as well as generating electricity for the community.  This 100-year old Beneficio still operates, but it is the victim of deferred maintenance and in serious need of restoration if it is to remain a part of the local economy.

The Future

Today, Semillas Para El Futuro and its U.S affiliate are working with the community to reinvigorate the village economy while protecting the archaeological site and historic German buildings .  We are exploring development strategies that reduce dependency on coffee by encouraging diversity of agricultural production as well as other types of economic endeavors.  We have requested the Guatemalan government to declare the area including the ancient city and the German Beneficio a national heritage site, while simultaneously protecting the property rights and economic and cultural future of the people of Chocolá. Enrique Mateau, Guatemalan Minister of Culture, sees the efforts we are making in Chocolá as a challenging but exciting model program which could on the one hand research and refurbish these important historical sites and on the other, improve the quality of life of the community, eventually making them partners in a major archaeo-tourism site and an agricultural research facility that serves the entire coastal region.

We need your help to make these exciting dreams a reality.  Click here to join with us and the people of Chocolá to build a better, more sustainable future!



Archaeology Volunteers

Stone Artifact

Sacred Maya Cave


Old Coffee Beneficio

Old Coffee Beneficio