The Ancient Maya Built a Two Mile Wall Around This City to Protect the Elites From Invaders

Researchers have begun to study and restore a large ancient structure at one of Mexico's most important Maya archaeological sites.

The two mile long wall was built around the ancient city of Uxmal—located in the Yucatan Peninsula—in order to protect the elite from invaders, according to Jose Huchim Herrera, the director of the archaeological site from Mexico's National Institute of Anthropology and History (INAH.)

Built thousands of years ago, the wall was documented in the 19th century when American explorer John Lloyd Stephens published a drawing of the structure in his in 1841 book, Incidents of Travel in Central America, Chiapas and Yucatan, La Jornada Maya reported.

Since then, the wall has received little attention, gradually disappearing into the thick vegetation of the surrounding jungle. But recently INAH decided to implement a project with the aim of restoring the wall and learning more about it.

According to Herrera, the wall marks the extent of the territory which Uxmal controlled while also acting as a repellent to invaders.

Intriguingly, the wall—which is reminiscent of those found at other Maya settlements—also divided Uxmal's society: only the elites of the city lived inside them, while the lower classes had to fend for themselves outside.

Herrera says that the Maya built 20 entrance points in the wall, in addition to several tanks which collected rainwater. He noted that some of the construction appeared to have been rushed—an indication that certain parts were built in the face of an urgent threat.

"There was a time of war, probably with Chichen Itza," Herrera said, referring to another important Maya city, located more than 90 miles to the east.

Despite Uxmal's significance, relatively little research has been conducted at the site and it is thought that more than half of it is yet to be uncovered.

In 1996, the ancient city was designated a UNESCO World Heritage site as its remaining structures represent some of the best examples of late Maya art and architecture.

At the center of the site is the majestic Pyramid of the Soothsayer or Magician, which stands at more than 130 feet in height. Also notable is the Governor's Palace which Herrera is currently in the process of restoring.

"The majestic Mayan palaces of Uxmal are unique in their type, because they were built on various levels and their facades are notable for the stone filigree that seduces visitors," Herrera told Spanish international news agency EFE.

The Maya civilization dominated what is now southeastern Mexico, Guatemala, Belize, and the western areas of El Salvador and Honduras, for more than 3,000 years until the arrival of Spanish conquistadors.

They were notable for creating the only fully developed writing system in pre-Columbian America, as well as their sophistication in architecture, art, mathematics, and astronomy.

The Magicians Pyramid at the ruins of the ancient Mayan city of Uxmal. Located 45 miles south of Merida in the Yucatan, the ruins are one of Mexcio's major tourist sites. Brooks Kraft LLC/Corbis via Getty Images