Once Petén was a center of the Old Empire of the Maya and had a dense agricultural population. It is noted chiefly today as the scene of large-scale excavations of great archaeological ruins, notably Tikal 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.
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