Excavation of Mayan Pyramid in Guatemala Reveals Extraordinary Frieze

Excavation of Mayan Pyramid in Guatemala Reveals Extraordinary Frieze
Guatemalan archaeologist Francisco Estrada-Belli, a professor at Tulane University’s Anthropology Department, and his team, unearthed a piece of history in the northern province of Peten. According to Guatemalan officials, the archaeologist found an “extraordinary” frieze dating back to 590 A.D. while exploring a pyramid traced back to Mayan civilization.

The frieze, a high-relief stucco sculpture, measures 26 feet by 6 feet, and includes what appears to be the image of gods and godlike rulers wearing rich ornaments of feathers and jade sitting on the heads of monsters. Another description gives the location as being on one side of a staircase tomb inside the pyramid, built by the later rulers of the site.

The color of the frieze is still intact and displays red paint with details in blue, yellow, and green. The monsters may have been three men wearing bird headdresses and jade jewels seated cross-legged over the head of a mountain spirit. This depiction is likely to represent the crowning of a new ruler. Running at the base of the structure is an inscription composed of approximately 30 glyphs in a band displaying the names of the rulers.

Although the text was difficult to read, Alex Tokovinine, an epigraphist at Harvard University and contributor to the research project at Holmul, was able to decipher it. The text reveals the building was commissioned by Ajwosaj who was king of “Snake Kingdom” Naranjo, the neighboring city-state, and vassal of the powerful Kaanul dynasty. David Stuart, an expert in Mayan epigraphy at the University of Texas at Austin, confirms the text to be accurate, and he deems Tokovinine’s translation “excellent.”

Since Guatemalan government officials lay claim to the Mayan frieze found, Guatemalan President Otto Perez Molina presented the National Geographic Society with the Order of the Quetzal, Guatemala’s highest award. The National Geographic Society funded the excavation that led to the discovery.

Smaller—no less astonishing—news reveals that 40 miles west of the Mayan frieze’s discovery site, archaeologists found an inscribed standing stone, or stela, from the year 564. The stela describes the installation of a new king at that site, as well, which happened to be a crowning overseen by a female ruler from the Snake Kingdom. Olivia Navarro-Farr, archaeologist and member of the discovery team, suggests both of the findings show “the noose of power constricting around Tikal in the 6th Century.”

Further excavation reveals a tomb, dug into a stairway. Inside was the skeleton of a man whose front teeth were drilled and filled with jade beads surrounded by pots depicting the nine gods of the Maya underworld and other icons. “He was certainly a member of the ruling class,” Estrada-Belli affirms. Ironic details of the discovery were revealed by Estrada-Belli who told Guatemalan government officials that they were led to the startling find when he and his crew followed a trench that was originally excavated by would-be looters who dug in the wrong direction.

By: Kimberly Scott

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