Featured Research

from universities, journals, and other organizations

Maya pyramid decorated with rare polychrome-painted stucco frieze

Date:
August 7, 2013
Source:
National Geographic Society
Summary:
A Maya pyramid beautifully decorated with a rare polychrome-painted stucco frieze was unearthed in July 2013 at the site of Holmul, a Classic Maya city in northeastern Peten region of Guatemala. The find came as an archaeological team excavated in a tunnel left open by looters. The stucco relief stands along the exterior of a multi-roomed rectangular building, measuring 8m in length and 2m in height. Much of the building still remains encased under the rubble of a later 20m-high structure. The carving is painted in red, with details in blue, green and yellow.

Archaeologist Anya Shetler cleaning inscription below glyph.
Credit: Photo by F. Estrada-Belli

A Maya pyramid beautifully decorated with a rare polychrome-painted stucco frieze was unearthed in July 2013 at the site of Holmul, a Classic Maya city in northeastern Peten region of Guatemala. The find came as archaeologist Francisco Estrada-Belli's team excavated in a tunnel left open by looters. The stucco relief stands along the exterior of a multi-roomed rectangular building, measuring 8m in length and 2m in height. Much of the building still remains encased under the rubble of a later 20m-high structure. The carving is painted in red, with details in blue, green and yellow.

"This is a unique find. It is a beautiful work of art and it tells us so much about the function and meaning of the building, which was what we were looking for," says Estrada-Belli. The carving depicts human figures in a mythological setting, suggesting these may be deified rulers. The team had hoped to find clues to the function of this building, since the unearthing of an undisturbed tomb last year. The burial contained an individual accompanied by 28 ceramic vessels and a wooden funerary mask.

An inscription below the figures tells us that this edifice was commissioned by the ruler of Naranjo, a powerful kingdom to the south of Holmul. In the dedication, king "Ajwosaj Chan K'inich" claims to have restored the local ruling line and patron deities. The images and glyphic text on the frieze also provide information about political actors in the Maya Lowlands well beyond this small kingdom. "One of the glyphs describes Ajwosaj as 'vassal of the Kanul king,' suggesting a much wider network of influences was being felt at Holmul. When this building was erected, Kanul kings were already on their way to controlling much of the lowlands, except Tikal of course," added Estrada-Belli.

The text places the building in the decade of the 590s, according to Alex Tokovinine, a Harvard University Maya epigrapher associated with the project. who has deciphered the text. "Ajwosaj was one of the greatest rulers of Naranjo. The new inscription provides the first glimpse of the remarkable extent of Ajwosaj's political and religious authority. It also reveals how a new order was literally imprinted on a broader landscape of local gods and ancestors," says Tokovinine.

During the Early Classic period (A. D. 300-550) the Tikal kings had established new dynasties and far-reaching alliances with kingdoms throughout the Maya Lowlands, perhaps thanks to a connection with Mesoamerica's greatest state, Teotihuacan. Tikal suffered a defeat in the year 562 by the Kanul "Snake" kingdom, which, for the following 180 years, would come to dominate most other Lowland kingdoms. An inscription at Naranjo indicates that Kanul king K'altuun Hix had overseen the accession of Ajwosaj, as early as the year 545.

The relief depicts three human figures wearing elaborate bird headdresses and jade jewels seated cross-legged over the head of a mountain spirit known as a witz ("mountain"). A cartouche on the headdress contains glyphs identifying each individual by name. The central figure's name is the only readable one: Och Chan Yopaat, meaning "The Storm God enters the sky. " Two feathered serpents emerge from the mountain spirit below the main character and form an arch with their bodies. Under each of them is a seated figure of an aged god holding a sign that reads "First tamale. " In front of the serpents' mouths are the two additional human figures, also seated on mountain spirit heads.

A band of about 30 incised glyphs adorns the bottom of the frieze. The legible parts mention the actions of Naranjo king Ajwosaj, who put the king's house in order," put Och Chan Yopaat (the central figure in the frieze) in order, and put several local patron gods in order.

The tomb associated with the building was found in a cavity dug into the stairway leading up to the building. The skeleton of an adult male and his ceramic offering were preserved by large limestone slabs that kept the tomb free of debris. His incisor and canine teeth has been drilled and filled with jade beads. The decayed remains of a wooden mask, perhaps originally worn as a pectoral, were found on his chest. With it were two miniature flower-shaped ear spools.

The number of vessels in the tomb as well as their iconography bore clear references to the nine lords of the underworld as well as to the aged sun god of the underworld. There were two sets of nine polychrome-painted bowls decorated with the water lily motif, each made by a different artist. There were also nine red-painted plates and one spouted tripod plate decorated with the image of the god of the underworld emerging from a shell. Because of the unusually high number of vessels and the jade dental decorations, Estrada-Belli believes this individual may have been a member of the ruling class at Holmul; he had planned this year's excavation to search for more clues about the man and the period in which he had lived.

The team hopes to return to the area in 2014 to continue exploring and to preserve this building. This year's investigation was endorsed by Guatemala's Ministry of Culture with funding from Guatemala's PACUNAM foundation and the U. S. -based Alphawood Foundation with additional support from Boston University, National Geographic Society/Waitt Grants Program, and private donors.

Francisco Estrada-Belli

Francisco Estrada-Belli is an Italian-Guatemalan archaeologist affiliated with Boston University and the American Museum of Natural History, who is currently teaching at Tulane University. He received a Ph. D. degree from Boston University in 1998. Since 2000 he has directed the Holmul Archaeological Project, a multi-disciplinary investigation of early Maya culture in Guatemala. He is author of numerous scholarly articles on the Maya including the recent book "The First Maya Civilization. Ritual and Power before the Classic period. "He is a National Geographic explorer, having received 13 research grants from the National Geographic Society, and a Fellow of the Society of Antiquaries of London. He is co-founder of the Maya Archaeology Initiative, a nonprofit for heritage preservation and education in the Maya Biosphere of Guatemala.

For more information, see National Geographic's news story at: http://news.nationalgeographic.com/news/2013/08/pictures/130807-maya-frieze-discovered-holmul-guatemala-archaeology/


Story Source:

The above story is based on materials provided by National Geographic Society. Note: Materials may be edited for content and length.


Cite This Page:

National Geographic Society. "Maya pyramid decorated with rare polychrome-painted stucco frieze." ScienceDaily. ScienceDaily, 7 August 2013. <www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2013/08/130807233646.htm>.
National Geographic Society. (2013, August 7). Maya pyramid decorated with rare polychrome-painted stucco frieze. ScienceDaily. Retrieved October 1, 2014 from www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2013/08/130807233646.htm
National Geographic Society. "Maya pyramid decorated with rare polychrome-painted stucco frieze." ScienceDaily. www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2013/08/130807233646.htm (accessed October 1, 2014).

Share This



More Fossils & Ruins News

Wednesday, October 1, 2014

Featured Research

from universities, journals, and other organizations


Featured Videos

from AP, Reuters, AFP, and other news services

2,000 Year Old Pre-Inca Cloak on Display in Lima

2,000 Year Old Pre-Inca Cloak on Display in Lima

AFP (Sep. 27, 2014) A 2,000 year-old Pre-Inca cloak that is believed to represent an agricultural calendar of the Paracas culture is on display in Lima. Duration: 00:39 Video provided by AFP
Powered by NewsLook.com
Original Mozart Sonata Manuscript Found in Budapest

Original Mozart Sonata Manuscript Found in Budapest

AFP (Sep. 26, 2014) Considered lost for over two centuries, the original manuscript of one of the most famous works of Mozart's Sonata in A major has been uncovered in a library in Budapest. Duration: 01:04 Video provided by AFP
Powered by NewsLook.com
Underground Art Reveals WW1 Soldiers' Hopes and Fears

Underground Art Reveals WW1 Soldiers' Hopes and Fears

AFP (Sep. 25, 2014) American doctor and photographer Jeff Gusky reveals the underground quarries used by the soldiers of World War One, and the artwork they left behind which illustrates their hopes and fears. Duration: 02:15 Video provided by AFP
Powered by NewsLook.com
Raw: Ice Age Wooly Mammoth Remains for Sale

Raw: Ice Age Wooly Mammoth Remains for Sale

AP (Sep. 23, 2014) A rare, well-preserved skeleton of a woolly mammoth is going on sale at Summers Place Auctions hope the 11.5-foot tall, almost intact specimen will fetch between $245,000 to $409,000. (Sept. 23) Video provided by AP
Powered by NewsLook.com

Search ScienceDaily

Number of stories in archives: 140,361

Find with keyword(s):
Enter a keyword or phrase to search ScienceDaily for related topics and research stories.

Save/Print:
Share:

Breaking News:

Strange & Offbeat Stories


Plants & Animals

Earth & Climate

Fossils & Ruins

In Other News

... from NewsDaily.com

Science News

Health News

Environment News

Technology News



Save/Print:
Share:

Free Subscriptions


Get the latest science news with ScienceDaily's free email newsletters, updated daily and weekly. Or view hourly updated newsfeeds in your RSS reader:

Get Social & Mobile


Keep up to date with the latest news from ScienceDaily via social networks and mobile apps:

Have Feedback?


Tell us what you think of ScienceDaily -- we welcome both positive and negative comments. Have any problems using the site? Questions?
Mobile: iPhone Android Web
Follow: Facebook Twitter Google+
Subscribe: RSS Feeds Email Newsletters
Latest Headlines Health & Medicine Mind & Brain Space & Time Matter & Energy Computers & Math Plants & Animals Earth & Climate Fossils & Ruins