March 14, 2009

Mayan Legend Discovered In Guatemala

Archaeologists have unearthed stucco panels carved with images of cosmic gods, monsters and serpents in the northern jungles of Guatemala.  

The two panels, each 26 feet long and stacked on top of each other, were created around 300 BC and are the oldest known depictions of a notorious Mayan legend, the Popol Vuh.

It took investigators excavating El Mirador three months to uncover the carvings, said Richard Hansen, the site's lead researcher, during an interview with Reuters on Wednesday.  

With its complex network of waterways and roads and a massive pyramid now covered under thick vegetation, El Mirador is the world's largest ancient Mayan city.

The Maya built sophisticated palaces and vast temples in Central America and southern Mexico, and dominated the area for some two millennia before inexplicably deserting their cities around 900 AD.  However, the El Mirador basin was abandoned much earlier.

A Spanish colonial priest discovered the earliest written version of the Popol Vuh in the early 1700s, and the stucco panels are the first known sculptural depictions of the two hero twins that are the main characters of the myth, said Hansen, an Idaho State University archeologist who has worked at El Mirador for years.

"This is pre-Christian, it has tremendous antiquity and shows again the remarkable resilience of an ideology that's existed for thousands of years," said Hansen, who worked as a consultant for Mel Gibson's 2006 film about the Maya, "Apocalypto."

On one of the panels, the twins are seen surrounded by cosmic monsters, with a bird deity with outstretched wings hovering above them. The other panel shows a Mayan corn god surrounded by a large serpent, Hansen said.

At more than 500,000 acres, El Mirador is three times the size of Guatemala's well-known Tikal ruins, a destination popular with many tourists.
El Mirador is currently under threat by drug traffickers who use the area to transport cocaine and heroin across the porous border with Mexico.

Wild animal poachers, deforestation and looters, who steal the area's ancient artifacts to sell on the black market, also put the city at risk.
President Alvaro Colom announced the creation of a massive park in the jungles of northern Guatemala's Peten region, which would include both El Mirador and Tikal. The plan, proposed last year, includes the construction of a silent, propane-powered train by 2020 to transport thousands of visitors to the ruins, which are currently accessible only by helicopter or a two-day trek through the jungle.


Image Credit: Wikipedia


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