Photograph by George P. Mobley, National GeographicThe Mirador Basin in Guatemala, considered the cradle of Maya civilization, sits adjacent to the well-known Classical Maya ruins in Tikal National Park, including the Great Plaza of Tikal, seen above in an aerial picture.
The four cities in the Mirador Basin predate Tikal by as much as 1,200 years, but the Mirador ruins continue to lie abandoned under 2,000 years' worth of jungle growth. Threats to the approximately million-acre (405,000-hectare) site include looting, slash-and-burn agriculture, and illegal logging. (Explore an interactive map of the Maya Empire.)
Archaeologist Richard Hansen leads a project exploring the ancient site and is a proponent of responsible tourism as a means to protect the region.
"That will provide revenue for the poorest of Guatemala's population, and that's the key, to involve them in the model," he said. (Related: "Bowls of Fingers, Baby Victims, More Found in Maya Tomb.")