(Parque Nacional Takalik Abaj) The archaeological site of Tak’alik Ab’aj in Guatemala, symbol of the transition from Olmec to Mayan culture, was added to the world heritage list by UNESCO on Monday during its 45th session held in Riyadh.

The archaeological park consisting of stone structures, sculptures and ceremonial squares amid dense vegetation is located in the municipality of El Asintal, some 200 km west of the capital, and is home to writings from both civilizations.

“When they met and the new Mayan culture began to form, the main center then was Tak’alik Ab’aj, and so that’s where it was born,” he told AFP. Guatemalan Minister of Culture, Felipe Aguilar. “That’s what makes this site unique, universal.”

Tak’alik Ab’aj was a cosmopolitan trading city inhabited first by the Olmecs (1500 BC to AD 100), then by the Middle Mesoamerican Preclassic Maya (800 to 300 AD). BC), according to archaeologist Christa Schieber.

It is “like a laboratory where we can see the changes that occurred little by little” at “the dawn of the Mayan era […] after the extinction of the Olmec culture”, underlines- she at AFP.

The Olmecs, who were nomads, disappeared, but the Mayans continued to develop their culture in Central America and Mexico.

The city’s original name remains a mystery and it was only named Tak’alik Ab’aj in 1965, meaning “standing stone” in the K’iche Mayan language.

The park contains a variety of key pieces from the transition between the two civilizations, including a “unique” stone stele that began to be carved in Olmec, “was forgotten” and was finished with the nascent Mayan script, says The Minister.

This is where “the first king of our Mayan culture lived, when it was already formed,” adds Mr. Aguilar. The tomb of King “K’utz Chman”, who was perhaps the ruler responsible for the transition, was discovered in 2012.

Tak’alik Ab’aj is not the only site in Guatemala to bear witness to the Olmec-Maya transition, but it is the densest. Made up of 356 monuments, including rectangular stone blocks and jade death masks, it extends over 650 hectares on the slopes of a volcanic range.

Guatemala also has the colonial city of Antigua, the Mayan ruins of Tikal and Quirigua, and the Holy Week festival on the World Heritage List.