Cerro Quiac

Cerro Quiac (Spanish pronunciation: [ˈsero kiˈak]) (K'iaq [kˀiˈaq] and K'iaqb'al [kˀiaqˈɓal] in the K'iche language) is a small Maya archaeological site located at an altitude of 2,635 metres (8,645 ft), overlooking the Plains of Urbina in the Guatemalan Highlands. When investigated in 1970 it had five stone sculptures, by 1977 only four were left. The sculptures included figures and geometric decoration. The site is still used for contemporary Maya rituals.[1] Cerro Quiac is located in the northeast of the municipality of Cantel,[2] within the boundaries of the hamlet of Chirijquiac.[3]

Cerro Quiac
K'iaqbal 04.JPG
Cerro Quiac occupies the summit of a hill overlooking Cantel
Alternative namesK'iaq
Geographical rangeGuatemalan Highlands
Type siteArchaeological

Cerro Quiac contains two small groups of pre-Columbian architecture. An ethnohistoric document from the early Colonial period describes the site as a fortress founded by the Mam Maya, who were subsequently driven from the area by K'iche' expansion. Cerro Quiac has been dated to the Early Postclassic period of Mesoamerican chronology (approximately 900–1200 AD). Local K'iche' folklore holds that the archaeological site was a training ground for K'iche' warriors, and that the K'iche' hero Tecun Uman died upon the hill.


The name of the hill is variously said to be derived either from the K'iche' word k'iaq, meaning "flea", or from the name of a small black flower that grows on the hill.[2] Cerro means "hill" in Spanish.[4] The name k'iaqb'al for the archaeological site means "place of throwing/shooting".[5]


The site is situated to the south of the Plains of Urbina, 2 kilometres (1.2 mi) east of the Samala River,[6] upon a prominent hill that is visible for approximately 4 kilometres (2.5 mi) in each direction.[7] The summit of the hill is covered with pine forest.[6] The hilltop consists of a 100-metre (330 ft) long ridge, varying in width from 20 to 100 metres (66 to 328 ft).[7] The hill is steep-sided, with the easiest approach from the northeast, the direction furthest from the pre-Columbian remains. The western portion of the ridge is the highest, rising 160 metres (520 ft) above the valley floor; some 60 metres (200 ft) higher than the rest of the hilltop.[8]

Site descriptionEdit

Retaining wall of the main platform in the west group

The site architecture was built on the western portion of the ridge, running approximately northwest to southeast. Large boulders have been arranged into terraces, standing 2 metres (6.6 ft) and 3 metres (9.8 ft) high respectively. There are two architectural groups, both of which are poorly preserved.[8]

The east group possesses three earthwork mounds arranged in a line, with a fourth mound situated off to the south side. There are steep drops on the east and west sides.[8] Plentiful ceramic remains were scattered around the group, which had been exposed by agricultural activity.[9]

The west group is situated about 170 metres (560 ft) from the east group,[10] and about 70 metres (230 ft) above it. A small temple was built upon a broad 1-metre (3.3 ft) high platform. The walls of the platform were built from uncut stone. Five prehispanic stelae stood upon the platform in the 1970s.[9]

The five stelae present in 1970 were arranged in a semicircle approximately 6 metres (20 ft) across.[6] It is possible that they were brought to Cerro Quiac from various other sites in the area. The sculptures were badly eroded.[11] A number of pre-Columbian tombs were found on the hill, and various artefacts were recovered.[12]


Sculpted stone at Cerro Quiac

Recovered ceramics date the site to the Early Postclassic period of Mesoamerican chronology (c. 950–1200 AD).[9] The early colonial K'iche' document entitled Título C'oyoi describes the site as a fortress built by the Mam Maya of Zaculeu. There is no archaeological evidence of occupation after the Mam were driven from the site by K'iche' expansion. The ceramics and stelae are likely to be Mam in origin, and to date to the 13th or 14th century AD.[13]

Modern historyEdit

In September 1884, during the presidency of Justo Rufino Barrios, two government artillery pieces were placed on Cerro Quiac in order to threaten Cantel with bombardment, and enforce compliance with government demands for money.[14] In folk memory, this event has been conflated with local resistance to the construction of a textile factory, and central government threats to bombard the local populace into acceptance.[15]

In 1968, during the Guatemalan Civil War, the municipal authorities of Quetzaltenango attempted to purchase the hill to build a military barracks there, but were resisted by the inhabitants of Cantel, who refused to sell the land. As a communal response, the locals argued that Cerro Quiac was an archaeological site,[12] and the various churches of Cantel united to establish the hill as an ecumenical prayer ground.[16] The site is the most important Maya ceremonial site in Cantel.[17] On 28 June 2004, it was declared a site of national cultural and natural heritage by ministerial accord.[18]


Sculpted stela fragment

In local folklore, the hill was formed by an eruption of the Cerro Quemado volcano. The great leap from Cerro Quemado to the hill is said to be the origin of its name, K'iaq, as the leap of a flea.[17] Traditionally, the archaeological site was called K'iaqbal, and is said to have been a training ground for K'iche' warriors.[3] The hill is also linked in local folklore to the K'iche' hero Tecun Uman, and his battle against Pedro de Alvarado during the Spanish conquest of Guatemala. According to one account, Tecun Uman was killed on the hill.[19]

See alsoEdit


  1. ^ Ciudad Ruiz and Iglesias Ponce de León 1995, p. 92.
  2. ^ a b Carmack and Mondloch 2009, p. 46. n. 163.
  3. ^ a b Ajtún Chanchavac 2011.
  4. ^ Span¡shD!ct.
  5. ^ Christenson, p. 54. Pye 1991, p. 10.
  6. ^ a b c Iglesias Ponce de León and Ciudad Ruiz 1984, p. 18.
  7. ^ a b Fox 1978, p. 162.
  8. ^ a b c Fox 1978, p. 163.
  9. ^ a b c Fox 1978, p. 165.
  10. ^ Fox 1978, p. 164.
  11. ^ Iglesias Ponce de León and Ciudad Ruiz 1984, p. 19.
  12. ^ a b Colop 5 October 2002.
  13. ^ Fox 1978, pp. 165–166.
  14. ^ Little-Siebold 1998, pp. 367–368.
  15. ^ Little-Siebold 1998, p. 368. DeSalvo 2008, p. 9.
  16. ^ Little-Siebold 1998, p. 360.
  17. ^ a b Cornejo Sam, p. 264.
  18. ^ CENADOJ 15 July 2004.
  19. ^ DeSalvo 2008, p. 8.


  • Ajtún Chanchavac, Mario (2011) Aldea Chirijquiac, Cantel 2011 (in Spanish) (Guatemala: Alcaldía Comunitaria de Cantel). Archived from the original on 2016-03-06.
  • Carmack, Robert M.; and James L. Mondloch (2009). Horacio Cabezas Carcache, ed. "Título K'oyoi". Crónicas Mesoamericanas (in Spanish) (Guatemala City, Guatemala: Universidad Mesoamericana). Volume II: 15–68. ISBN 978-99939-984-0-2. OCLC 587554348. Archived from the original on 2016-03-01. Access date 2016-03-01.
  • CENADOJ (15 July 2004) Sumario Diario de Centro América del jueves 15 de julio de 2004 (in Spanish) (Guatemala City, Guatemala: Organismo Judicial: Centro Nacional de Análisis y Documentación Judicial (CENADOJ)). Retrieved on 2016-03-04.
  • Christenson, Allen J. "K’iche’ – English Dictionary and Guide to Pronunciation of the K’iche’-Maya Alphabet" (PDF). Foundation for the Advancement of Mesoamerican Studies, Inc. (FAMSI). Retrieved 2016-03-07.
  • Ciudad Ruiz, Andrés; and María Josefa Iglesias Ponce de León (1995). J. P. Laporte, and H. Escobedo, eds. "Arqueología del occidente de Guatemala: Estado actual y perspectivas del futuro" [Archaeology in Western Guatemala: Current state and future perspectives] (PDF). Simposio de Investigaciones Arqueológicas en Guatemala (in Spanish) (Guatemala City, Guatemala: Museo Nacional de Arqueología y Etnología. VIII (1994): 90–101. OCLC 36011889. Archived from the original on 2011-09-14. Retrieved 2016-02-29.
  • Colop, Sam (5 October 2002) Ucha Xik Ri K'iaq: Ahora la cúspide del domo volcánico es un centro ceremonial ecuménico, Prensa Libre (in Spanish). Guatemala City, Guatemala. OCLC 12565005
  • Cornejo Sam, Mariano. Q'antel (Cantel): Patrimonio cultural-histórico del pueblo de Nuestra Señora de la Asunción Cantel: Tzion'elil echba'l kech aj kntelab "Tierra de Viento y Neblina" (in Spanish). Quetzaltenango, Guatemala.
  • DeSalvo, Lyndon (2008) "Bleeding Earth: Volcanoes as the Prototypical Mountains in Mayan Cosmological Past". Northfield, Minnesota, US: Carleton College. Archived from the original on 2016-03-06. Retrieved on 2016-03-04.
  • Fox, John W. (1978) Quiche Conquest: Centralism and Regionalism in Highland Guatemalan State Development, pp. 162–166. Albuquerque, New Mexico, US: University of New Mexico Press. ISBN 0-8263-0461-3. OCLC 3869407.
  • Iglesias Ponce de León, María Josefa; and Andrés Ciudad Ruiz (1984). "Exploraciones arqueológicas en la cuenca alta del río Samalá (Guatemala)" [Archaeological exploration in the upper Samala River basin (Guatemala)] (PDF). Revista española de antropología americana (in Spanish) (Madrid, Spain: Universidad Complutense de Madrid). Nº 14 (1984): 9–32. ISSN 0556-6533. Archived from the original on 2016-02-29. Retrieved 2016-02-29.
  • Little-Siebold, Todd (1998). "Monografías, memoria y la producción local de historia" [Monographs, Memory, and the Production of Local History] (PDF). Mesoamérica (in Spanish). (Wellflett, Massachusetts, US: Plumsock Mesoamerican Studies) Vol 36 (December 1998): 343–369. ISSN 0252-9963. Archived from the original on 2016-03-01. Retrieved 2016-03-01.
  • Pye, C. 1991. The Acquisition of K'iche' (Maya) (1991), in Dan Isaac Slobin (Ed.), The Crosslinguistic Study of Language Acquisition, Vol. 3, pp. 221–308. Hillsdale, New Jersey, US: Erlbaum. Retrieved 2016-03-07.
  • Span¡shD!ct. www.spanishdict.com. Curiosity Media. Retrieved 2016-03-03.

External linksEdit

Coordinates: 14°50′20″N 91°26′27″W / 14.838993°N 91.440715°W / 14.838993; -91.440715