Archaeologist Found This Huge, Beautiful Mayan Frieze Completely Intact in Guatemala

An incredibly well-preserved 26-by-8-feet frieze may shed light on Mayan political history around AD 590

An archeologist clearing debris away from an inscription on the newly discovered frieze.
An archeologist clearing debris away from an inscription on the newly discovered frieze. Francisco Estrada-Belli

Archaeologists have struck upon a “once in a lifetime” find, an incredibly well-preserved 26-by-8-feet frieze buried beneath a temple in Holmul, a jungle-filled pre-Columbian research site in northeastern Guatemala, the BBC reports. The sculpture depicts rulers and the gods, some decorated with jade.

The sculpture is believed to depict the crowning of a new Mayan leader in about AD590.

It also bears an inscription made up of 30 glyphs, which was deciphered by Harvard University expert Alex Tokovinine.

The inscription says that the carving was commissioned by the ruler of a nearby city-state, Ajwosaj ChanK’inich.

The frieze was buried beneath a large pyramid, which was constructed over it around 200 years later. Though the pyramid obscured the great work of art below, it likely contributed to the frieze’s preservation since it was protect from the elements and, perhaps, from looters. Indeed, the archeological team behind the discovery came across the frieze while exploring an area broken into by looters.

National Geographic elaborates on the finding and how it fits in to the larger Mayan history:

The central figure’s name is the only readable one: Och Chan Yopaat, meaning “the storm god enters the sky.”

Estrada-Belli and his team speculate that Och Chan Yopaat may have been the leader that the Naranjo king, Ajwosaj, established as the ruler of Holmul after wresting the city back from the Tikal dynasty.

Archeologists report in a press release that they hope the other hieroglyphs, once translated, will shed light on the “game of alliances” that different Mayan kingdoms were engaged in during this time period.

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