Enormous Mayan frieze uncovered by archaeologists in Guatemala
Discovery made at previously looted temple went unnoticed by thieves
Archaeologists stumbled across an enormous frieze while excavating a tunnel in the city of Hummel in the Peten region of Guatemala last month. The discovery, made late last month was ironic as the tunnel had been previously ransacked. "The looters had come close to it, but they hadn't seen it," Maya archaeologist Francisco Estrada-Bell says.
The enormous frieze, which measures 26 feet by nearly 7 feet depicts human figures in a mythological setting,
The frieze is one of the best preserved examples of its kind, according to Estrada-Bell. "It's 95 percent preserved. There's only one corner that's not well preserved because it's too close to the surface, but the rest of it isn't missing any parts."
Affiliated with Tulane University, Boston University and the American Museum of Natural History, Estrada-Bell is also a National Geographic Explorer. His excavations at Holmul were supported by the National Geographic Society/Waitt Grants Program.
"We often dream of finding things this well preserved, and Francisco did it," Maya archaeologist Marcello Canuto says, calling the frieze "amazingly and beautifully preserved." Canuto is also the director of the Middle American Research Institute at Tulane University in New Orleans; he was not involved in the project.
Traces of red, blue, green, and yellow paint are still visible on the frieze in spite of its age.
"It gives you an idea of how intricate and ornate these sites that we are excavating must have been during their apogee," Canuto said. "These sites must have been a feast for the eyes when they were inhabited."
A Maya hieroglyph expert at the University of Texas at Austin, David Stuart pointed out that archaeologists think most large Maya temples were probably decorated with similar sorts of designs.
"But not all temples were so carefully buried and preserved like this," Stuart says, who did not participate in the project. "Also, each temple facade was slightly different and therefore unique in terms of its detail and message."
The section of the temple at Holmul where the frieze was found dates back to about A.D. 590. This period is aligned with the Maya classical era, a period defined by the power struggles between two major Maya dynasties: Tikal and Kaanul.
The Tikal and the Kaanul competed with one another for resources and for control of other, smaller Maya city-states. It ha been previously unclear which dynasty Holmul owed its allegiance. An inscription on the newly discovered frieze reveals that the temple was commissioned by Ajwosaj, ruler of a neighboring city-state called Naranjo, which archaeologists know from other discoveries was a vassal city of the Kaanul kingdom.
"We now know that Holmul was under the influence of the Kaanul dynasty," Canuto said.
Recent discoveries at sites like La Corona and Holmul are helping reveal how these sites, despite being relatively small compared with some of their neighbors, were important players on the region's larger geopolitical stage.
© 2013, Distributed by NEWS CONSORTIUM.
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