By Arturo Sosa
In 1934, Doris Stone, the famous American archaeologist published an article about a trip she made to the community of El Jaral, on the shores of Lake Yojoa; where she discovered the sculpture of a little man with robust and negroid features carved in volcanic rock. The statue was beheaded; the head was found nearby. In her research Stone described a great number of mounds, some of which were of considerable height. At that time the archaeologist concluded that the settlement was a Maya city.
Stone’s article caught the attention of the Danish National Museum and Tulane University, who organized an expedition led by Frans Blo and Jens Yde in 1936. Both shot the first photographs of the site and published the first map of Los Naranjos. But the first to lead an archaeological excavation was the Smithsonian Institution in Washington in association with Harvard University in 1938.
It took about 30 years for French archaeologists Claude Baudez and Pierre Beecquelin to undertake further investigations. From 1967 to 1969, Baudez managed to confirm that Los Naranjos was one of the most important sites in southern Mesoamerica. The archaeologist revealed the existence of three monumental structures over ten meters high and two defensive trenches of sizeable proportions. According to Baudez, most of the structures were built during the formative period, between 1200 BC to 300 AD, during which many of the Maya sites had not yet begun their monumental superstructures.
In the nineties, George Hasseman, one of the most important archaeologists who worked in Honduras, began a series of multidisciplinary studies on the lake shore, which culminated with the creation of an Eco-archeological park, Los Naranjos.
To Hasseman, Los Naranjos was the most important archaeological site of Honduras after Copán. We now know that it is about 2,500 years old, predating the Maya city-state by nearly a thousand years.
In 2001, after the mournful death of Hasseman, work was resumed on the development of the park. Mexican archaeologists, Oscar Neil and Erick Valles, began the restoration on structure IV, a work that had been investigated by Baudez and whose construction began in 800 BC. The work of these experts revealed a polygonal structure with a height of ten meters that formed an acropolis; within rested five smaller buildings. Perhaps the structure was a civic-ceremonial center where a very important family once resided.
Who lived in Los Naranjos? Obviously, this is the first question that crosses our minds. Although it is unclear, researchers are inclined to think they were protolencas, predecessors of the Lenca people. For reasons still unknown, the main group of structures composed of seven formations between 3 to 20 meters high, gradually began losing its value and around the year 500 AD. was abandoned, but still kept some important ceremonial importance or significance as a sacred place.
Hasseman was fully aware of the importance of restoring Los Naranjos. In his final report, the archaeologist wrote: “Overall, the park represents a model that was guided by a philosophy that over time will result in a better quality of life for local people, a significant increase in regional and international tourism; an entrenchment of environmental awareness and environmental protection, especially among school children … “And he was right.