On May 21, 697, according to Mayan hieroglyphs, the city of Bahlam Jol “burned for the second time.”
But, like much of Mayan writing and history, the record remained mysterious to modern Maya researchers. Where was Bahlam Jol? What exactly were the Mayans describing with the hieroglyph that is translated as “burn”? There are many kinds of burning.
A team of researchers that began their work with a study of lake sediments in Guatemala has found that Bahlam Jol is the Mayan name of ruins that archaeologists call Witzna in northern Guatemala, and they concluded that the fire was devastating.
They reported Monday in the journal Nature Human Behaviourthat the burning of Bahlam Jol was an example of total war, including ordinary city residents as targets, and not the more rule-bound conflict that focused on taking important prisoners that was thought to be the dominant form of warfare at that time in their history.