Petén


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Petén

(pātān`), region, c.15,000 sq mi (38,850 sq km), N Guatemala. A humid expanse of dense, tropical hardwood forests interrupted by savannas and crisscrossed by ranges of hills, it is related geographically to SE Mexico and Belize rather than to the rest of Guatemala. The Usumacinta River system drains most of the region. Rainfall is very heavy. There are large, permanent lakes, notably Lake Petén Itzá. The region is relatively inaccessible and has been only partly developed. It produces lumber, chicle, and some rubber and cacao. The sparse population is mostly Native American. Flores is the chief town.

Once Petén was a center of the Old Empire of the MayaMaya
, indigenous people of S Mexico and Central America, occupying an area comprising the Yucatán peninsula and much of the present state of Chiapas in Mexico, Guatemala, Belize, parts of El Salvador, and extreme western Honduras.
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 and had a dense agricultural population. It is noted chiefly today as the scene of large-scale excavations of great archaeological ruins, notably TikalTikal
, ruined city of the Classic Period of the Maya, N central Petén, Guatemala. The largest and possibly the oldest of the Maya cities, Tikal consists of nine groups of courts and plazas built on hilly land above surrounding swamps (which may have been lakes in former
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 and Uaxactún. Although the Spanish nominally conquered the area and Cortés passed through it on his march to Honduras (1524–25), efforts at subjugation were sporadic until the Itzá tribe was driven out (1697) from their stronghold at Lake Petén Itzá.