ancient maya
Ancient Maya city Nixtun-Ch'ich' was built on a grid system (representational image) Reuters

The ancient Maya city of Nixtun-Ch'ich' was built on a grid system never seen before, scientists have discovered.

The city in Peten, Guatemala, was in use between about 600BC and 300BC – a time when cities were first being constructed in the area, Live Science reports.

However, unlike other urban centres, the city was planned using a unique grid design, with the main ceremonial route running in an east-west line only three degrees off true east – the city facing east would have helped people follow the movement of the sun. The residential areas were found to the north and south, also on a grid system.

Timothy Pugh, from Queens College in New York, has been studying Mayan remains since 1995. He normally focuses on remains dating far later than Nixtun-Ch'ich' but in his investigations, he was able to map the early city.

Pugh said: "[Nixtun-Ch'ich' is] organised in a way we haven't seen in other places. It's a top-down organisation. Some sort of really, really, powerful ruler had to put this together."

The city contained flat-topped pyramids, with about 15 buildings in an exact straight line – the main ceremonial route. These buildings would have reached about 100ft (30m) high and visitors would have climbed steps to reach the top.

At the end of the ceremonial route was a triadic structure – pyramids and buildings that faced each other on a platform.

Pugh said archaeologists have previously found the city's buildings would have been decorated in a white plaster. "It was probably a very shiny city," he explained.

However, he also said the residents were probably unhappy living in the city because of its rigid layout. He said: "Most Mayan cities are nicely spread out. They have roads just like this but they're not gridded – the space is more open and less controlled."

Pugh added it is "very possible" the people of the city "didn't really enjoy living in such a controlled environment".