July 25, 2012
Mayan Temple Unearthed, Gives Peek At The Past
Lee Rannals for redOrbit.com - Your Universe Online
A new Mayan temple is starting to appear as archaeologists unearth an area that once housed a culture rich with art, architecture and mathematics.
In 2010, archaeologists working on a hilltop near the ancient city center discovered the 45-foot-tall Diablo Pyramid, featuring a royal palace and tomb up top.
The archaeologists believe that the tomb holds the city's first ruler, who lived around A.D. 350 to 400.
While uncovering this temple, the team started to unveil the Temple of the Night Sun, located behind the royal tomb on the pyramid.
The sides of the temple feature 5-foot-tall masks that show the face of the sun god changing as he moves the day to night.
"This has been a growing awareness to us since the 1990s, when it became clear that a few kingdoms were more important than others," Brown University archaeologist Stephen Houston told National Geographic reporter Ker Than.
Houston was among the archaeologists who had helped uncover the temple, as reported last week by redOrbit.
“The Diablo Pyramid is one of the most ambitiously decorated buildings in ancient America,” Houston said in a statement. “The stuccos provide unprecedented insight into how the Maya conceived of the heavens, how they thought of the sun, and how the sun itself would have been grafted onto the identity of kings and the dynasties that would follow them.”
The team is currently working at the Center for Advanced Spatial Technologies (CAST) at the University of Arkansas to get a better understanding of what the building would have looked like.
They are using photogrammetric techniques to create 3D images of the stuccos, and combining them with color photographs to create drawings of the building.
The artist renderings show a large solid platform made up the base of the pyramid, and the previously discovered tomb sits just below it.
Houston said that at one time, most of the temple would have been covered in ornate stuccos, most of which may have survived.
Last year, the El Zotz excavation was named one of the World Monuments Fund's 76 international cultural heritage sites at risk. It is known for its few carved wooden lintels with hieroglyphic text that survived from pre-Columbian Mesoamerica.
The archaeologists are learning more about the purpose of the temple the deeper they dig at it. Houston said the pyramid would have been overlooking the main part of El Zotz 1,600 years ago.
The temple was painted a saturated red to help pronounce the presence and the power of the ruling dynasty. It would have been at its brightest during the rising and setting of the sun, and visible up to 15 miles away.
The temple's stucco masks on the walls depict some sort of celestial beings, including a sun god known as K´inich Ajaw. Another mask displays fish-like characteristics, which the archaeologists believe could represent the rising sun on the Horizon.
“The sun was a key element of Maya rulership,” Houston said in a statement. “It was an icon which they linked very deliberately to royal lines, royal identity, and royal power."
He said that the mask depicting the sun is the most dominant celestial feature seen in the temple.
"It´s something that rises every day and penetrates into all nooks and crannies, just as royal power presumably would," he said in the statement. "This building is one that celebrates this close linkage between the king and this most powerful and dominant of celestial presences.”
The temple was built during a time when the people of El Zotz and Tikal were experiencing contact with and intrusions from the people of Teotihuacan, which was the largest metropolis located near modern-day Mexico City back in ancient America.
The archaeologists believe that the temple may have been built in order to signal local power at a time of intrusion and political frustrations.
Another theory is that the Maya saw the building as a living being rather than a physical structure. At one point, the nose and mouths of the masks were systemically mutilated as a way to deactivate the building, according to Houston.
He said that the site shows the building was abandoned sometime in the A.D. 400s, maybe due to a break in the dynastic order.