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“That ceramic was only produced in the Mirador Basin, and I was the first one who identified that,” he says.

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In 2001, for example, William Saturno, now an archaeology professor at Boston University, uncovered a set of brilliantly colored frescoes at the preclassic site of San Bartolo not far from Tikal that also recounted events narrated in the Archaeological digs are usually a summertime affair—at El Mirador the excavations run from May to September in order to accommodate the school year for professors and students—so I met with Hansen in the off-season, late February, when he was temporarily back in Rupert, Idaho, where he is the second-most famous native son after television personality Lou Dobbs (who was born in Rupert but no longer lives there).The best that the preclassic Maya could do, it was thought, was to erect a modest eight-meter pyramid at Uaxactún, a settlement about 12 miles north of Tikal.That low-slung structure was regarded as a precursor to the classic-era Mayan structures—much in the way that the small step-pyramids of Saqqara, Dashur, and elsewhere in pharaonic Egypt preceded the Great Pyramid of Cheops.“Doing anything else would facilitate the evils that are there” in chronically poor and crime-afflicted Guatemala, Hansen told me.“The looting, the poaching, the narco-trafficking, the prostitution, and all of the ills that come along with all of that.” (Hansen has for years pitched the construction of a small train that would cut the non-helicopter travel time to eight hours and provide some tourist business to Carmelita and other villages, so far to no avail.) But those who have managed to visit La Danta and its surrounding ruins have come away overwhelmed at the huge monument-studded area that might have supported as many as one million people during its heyday.Shortly after that weekend in Rupert, he would be back in Guatemala entertaining a top NASA official and ferrying around some VIPs from the National Geographic Society—more fundraising, that is.

The weekend in Rupert itself had a whirlwind quality.

When the jungle vegetation was peeled back, the ruins of the El Mirador complex were revealed to be four times the size of the sculpture-studded complex at Tikal, a once-powerful Mayan city-state and a popular Guatemalan tourist destination that is the crown jewel of Mayan architecture.

At 230 feet, the highest of Tikal’s soaring ziggurat-shaped temple-pyramids was once considered the tallest Mayan structure.

El Mirador is either a five-day humidity-and-snake-plagued hike from the nearest road-accessible town, Carmelita, or a round-trip helicopter ride from Flores, the nearest town with an airport, that can run into the thousands of dollars.

El Mirador’s roadless condition reflects a deliberate choice on Hansen’s part, with the cooperation of the Guatemalan government.

Hansen was flying in from Los Angeles after a whirlwind Southern California fundraising expedition among wealthy donors with Mayan interests who, along with corporations, family foundations, and organizations such as the National Geographic Society, finance his Mirador Basin Project-focused nonprofit, the Foundation for Anthropological Research & Environmental Studies (FARES).