Rare Maya panels found in Guatemala

Thu Mar 12, 2009 2:42am EDT
Email This Article |
Share This Article
  • Facebook
  • LinkedIn
  • Twitter
| Print This Article | Single Page
[-] Text [+]

By Sarah Grainger

GUATEMALA CITY (Reuters) - Archeologists have uncovered carved stucco panels depicting cosmic monsters, gods and serpents in Guatemala's northern jungle that are the oldest known depictions of a famous Mayan creation myth.

The newly discovered panels, both 26 feet long and stacked on top of each other, were created around 300 BC and show scenes from the core Mayan mythology, the Popol Vuh.

It took investigators three months to uncover the carvings while excavating El Mirador, the biggest ancient Mayan city in the world, the site's head researcher, Richard Hansen, said on Wednesday.

The Maya built soaring temples and elaborate palaces in Central America and southern Mexico, dominating the region for some 2,000 years, before mysteriously abandoning their cities around 900 AD.

The El Mirador basin was deserted much earlier with the large urban population leaving a complex network of roads and waterways and a massive pyramid now covered under thick vegetation.

The earliest written version of the Popol Vuh was discovered in the early 1700s by a Spanish colonial priest and the panels are the first known sculptural depictions of the main characters in the myth -- two hero twins, Hansen said.

"This is pre-Christian, it has tremendous antiquity and shows again the remarkable resilience of an ideology that's existed for thousands of years," Hansen, an Idaho State University archeologist who has worked at El Mirador for over a decade, said.

On one panel, the twins are depicted surrounded by cosmic monsters and above them is a bird deity with outstretched wings. On the other, there is a Mayan corn god framed by an undulating serpent, said Hansen who worked as a consultant for Mel Gibson's 2006 movie about the Maya, "Apocalypto."   Continued...

<p>Archeologist Richard Hansen explains the detail on one of two newly discovered Mayan panels in the northern Guatemalan Peten jungle March 7, 2009. REUTERS/Eduardo Gonz&aacute;lez SCSPR/Handout</p>