Ancient Maya artifacts depicting a Mayan ruler and the rites of royal accession have been unearthed in Guatemala that date back to the fourth century, CE, according to archaeologists. The discoveries include a stela (monuments made of a slab of stone or wood, usually ceremonial but sometimes used as a territorial marker) and extremely well-preserved panels that shed light on a period of Mayan history of which very little is known.
New Historian reported July 29 that archaeologists from the Middle American Institute and Tulane University announced at a press conference the findings of ancient Mayan artifacts that will undoubtedly aid in the understanding of the civilization that flourished in Central America for roughly three thousand years prior to the coming of the Spanish conquistadores. Among the findings at the El Achiotal archaeology site, part of the La Corona Regional Project in Guatemala, were pieces of a stele, all of which depict a Mayan ruler from a period in which relatively little is known. Also found at the excavation site were a pair of hieroglyphic panels that reveal the rituals of accession to the Mayan throne.
Excavation co-director and director of Middle American Research for Tulane University Marcello A. Canuto said at the press conference that the stela were in excellent condition considering their age. He noted that there were traces of sparkling red paint still intact on the artifact.
The hieroglyphic panes were remarkably intact, the archaeologists said. The two panels, which reveal how Mayan accession to rulership was carried out with highly detail rituals, had managed to weather the centuries and escape looters by being sequestered in a separate room far from the center of the palace in which they were found.
Both discoveries came at the hands of Tulane grad students. The stela were discovered by Luke Auld-Thomas while he worked to unearth a shrine that contained the stela, apparently placed inside for safe keeping. The hieroglyphic panels were uncovered by Maxime Lamoureux St-Hilaire, who was working in the La Corona palace he was helping excavate.
“It is clear that the ancient Maya relocated these panels for a special reason,” Canuto said in the press release, noting how the Maya were careful in preserving their monuments and were very conscious of their own history. He pointed out that such care and placement of important items at “a new home in the royal residences” was “a pattern we have seen often at La Corona.”
Epigrapher David Stuart from the University of Texas at Austin has examined the stela and has dated the artifact at 22 November 318 CE. In the course of the Mayan civilization arc, the date occurred during a period of political unrest. Places like El Achiotal, which were key governing areas, were especially susceptible to social and political upheaval of the times.
New discoveries and unearthings regarding the Maya culture occur in the Central American jungles, and particularly in Guatemala and Belize, all the time. Archeologists have found progress in reclaiming buildings and artifacts due to age, erosion, destruction, and neglect. The integrity of the archaeological sites, too, have been compromised from centuries of looting and general disregard of the antiquities. Last year, a construction worker in Belize bulldozed a 3,200-year-old Mayan temple in what archaeologist John Morris, according to Fox News, labeled as “an incredible display of ignorance.”
Heartbreaking incidents aside, great finds like 2012’s discovery of the tomb of Lady K’abel, the warrior queen of the Wak (“Centipede”) kingdom, help us learn a great deal about the ancient Mayan civilizations. The tomb, which was located in the 1-kilometer-wide city of El Perú-Waka’, contained remains believed to be those of the queen due to an alabaster jar whereon were hieroglyphs denoting the “Lady Snake Lord.” The aforementioned David Stuart, according to National Geographic, noted that it was difficult to say with absolute certainty that the tomb was the queen’s. However, it was highly likely, because the translation of the hieroglyphs on the jar were in direct agreement with other Mayan glyphs identifying Lady K’abel, ruler of the Snake Dynasty at the end of the 7th century CE, at other sites.