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There was something of a resurgence of grand Mayan architecture in what is known as the “postclassic” period that lasted until the arrival of the Spanish conquistadors in the 1520s—although the post-classic style, best represented by the pyramid complex of Chichén Itzá on Mexico’s Yucatán peninsula that flourished until around 1250, was heavily influenced by the cultures of the Toltec and Aztec Indians of central Mexico, who might even have invaded and subjected the Mayan territories.

Archaeologists were long aware that there had also been a “preclassic” Mayan period dating from roughly 1,800 b.c.

When the jungle vegetation was peeled back, the ruins of the El Mirador complex were revealed to be four times the size of the sculpture-studded complex at Tikal, a once-powerful Mayan city-state and a popular Guatemalan tourist destination that is the crown jewel of Mayan architecture.

At 230 feet, the highest of Tikal’s soaring ziggurat-shaped temple-pyramids was once considered the tallest Mayan structure.

Hansen is the director of what is probably the largest archaeological excavation in the world, the Mirador Basin Project, some 51 ancient Mayan cities connected by raised causeways along an 840-square-mile elevated trough in the middle of the dense and swampy rainforest of the northern Guatemalan lowlands.

Hansen’s annual excavation budget for the project is in the range of .5 million, dwarfing the 0,000 to 0,000 a year that most archaeologists are able to scrape together from grants for their more modest digs. Hansen is the director of what is probably the largest archaeological excavation in the world, the Mirador Basin Project, some 51 ancient Mayan cities connected by raised causeways along an 840-square-mile elevated trough in the middle of the dense and swampy rainforest of the northern Guatemalan lowlands.

Hansen was flying in from Los Angeles after a whirlwind Southern California fundraising expedition among wealthy donors with Mayan interests who, along with corporations, family foundations, and organizations such as the National Geographic Society, finance his Mirador Basin Project-focused nonprofit, the Foundation for Anthropological Research & Environmental Studies (FARES).

In 2001, for example, William Saturno, now an archaeology professor at Boston University, uncovered a set of brilliantly colored frescoes at the preclassic site of San Bartolo not far from Tikal that also recounted events narrated in the Archaeological digs are usually a summertime affair—at El Mirador the excavations run from May to September in order to accommodate the school year for professors and students—so I met with Hansen in the off-season, late February, when he was temporarily back in Rupert, Idaho, where he is the second-most famous native son after television personality Lou Dobbs (who was born in Rupert but no longer lives there).

What Idaho is most famous for, though, are the potatoes, all of which are grown in the Snake River valley, a crescent-shaped rolling plain that tracks the Snake River for 400 miles across the southern portion of the state from the Oregon border nearly to Yellowstone National Park in Wyoming.

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