The Temple of the Frescoes stands as one of the remarkable structures within the Tulum Archaeological Zone, still showcasing a significant portion of the iconic iconographic evidence associated with this Quintana Roo site. Recently, the archaeological research team successfully recovered three fragments of stucco-modeled rosettes, architectural elements that once adorned the facade of the structure also known as Building 16.
The identification and documentation of these architectural elements stem from a project undertaken by the federal Ministry of Culture, through the National Institute of Anthropology and History (INAH), utilizing resources from the Archaeological Zone Improvement Program (Promeza). This program is implemented in 26 sites along the Tren Maya route.
José Antonio Reyes Solís, the coordinator of the Tulum archaeological research project, explained that the initiative comprises major site maintenance activities, including the creation of new spaces for public visits. Additionally, it involves archaeological exploration, documentation, and valorization of certain structures that have not yet undergone intervention.
Regarding Building 16, the archaeological intervention was guided by the geophysical investigations conducted by the Laboratory of Archaeological Prospection at the Institute of Anthropological Research of the National Autonomous University of Mexico. These investigations focused on understanding the subsurface conditions beneath the building to determine its structural behavior and propose suitable conservation interventions for its distinctive cultural assets.
The archaeologist elaborated on the archaeological sondages carried out on the northern and western sides of the edifice to verify the findings from the prospecting studies. The objectives were to identify the foundation of the structure in relation to the bedrock, comprehend the construction techniques employed, and ascertain how natural processes of karstification and erosion of the bedrock affect the stability of the building.
Through these excavation sondages, which also served to remove tubes and wiring from a nighttime spectacle held at the site almost 20 years ago, the research team encountered cultural layers with a mixture of pre-Hispanic and modern materials. Beneath these disturbed layers, they discovered a compacted bed of small rocks, soil, and a substantial amount of stucco.
According to the researcher from the INAH Quintana Roo Center, “During the exploration of the northern side, we found three fragments of rosettes, which, based on their characteristics, must have detached from the frieze that is still preserved on the exterior of the Temple of the Frescoes. The frieze displays painted stucco decorations in blue, red, black, and yellow.”
These elements were handed over to the conservation team, led by restorer Patricia Meehan Hermanson, for stabilization, preservation, and potential reintegration into the iconographic discourse of the frieze, which dates back to the Late Postclassic period (1200-1550 AD). Within this structure, the rosettes and intertwined line patterns create the impression of a woven textile, known as the “pop” design or braided mat, associated with the concept of sovereignty and governance in ancient Maya culture.
Reyes Solís stated that in the coming months, major maintenance tasks would continue, including the removal of invasive vegetation, elimination of harmful fauna and wiring, repair of cracks, restoration of construction joints, consolidation of detached masonry and construction cores, and the installation of sacrificial flooring in the structures within the walled enclosure. It is worth noting that this wall delineates the main complex on its northern, southern, and western sides, while the eastern sector overlooks the Caribbean Sea.
The Promeza project in Tulum will enable the opening of restricted areas to the public, such as the vicinity of the northwestern (Building 55) and southwestern (Building 56) corner temples of the wall, a resting area within the palace zone comprising Buildings 21, 23, and 25, an extended tour along the perimeter of Platform 50, and the southern exit.
Furthermore, a new area will be opened on the northern side, outside the walled zone, leading to the architectural complex of Nauyacas, consisting of Structures 57 and 59, featuring various shrines. The INAH specialist concluded that these buildings within the architectural complex must be excavated and consolidated before eventual public access.