National Geographic is reporting on the remarkable discovery and analysis of a 1,600 year old ancient Maya temple in Guatemala. Called the Temple of the Night Sun, it features a series of striking stone monuments, including various depictions of the Maya sun god as a shark, jaguar, and blood drinker. Archaeologists are hoping that the discovery will shed some light on the fierce rivalries that characterized the era.
The video above showcases the work done by a team of archeologists led by Stephen Houston and comes courtesy of Brown University.
The initial discovery of the well-preserved temple, which was part of a larger palace complex, was made back in 2010 when archeologists uncovered a 45-foot-tall Diablo Pyramid, one which featured a royal palace and a tomb at the top of the structure.
The ancient city was called El Zotz, and was one of the smaller kingdoms around — but if the blazing red structure and its intricate monuments were any indication, these Maya were hoping to make a larger impact in the region. Ker Than of NatGeo explains:
The sides of the temple are decorated with 5-foot-tall (1.5-meter-tall) stucco masks showing the face of the sun god changing as he traverses the sky over the course of a day.
One mask is sharklike, likely a reference to the sun rising from the Caribbean in the east, [Stephen] Houston said.
The noonday sun is depicted as an ancient being with crossed eyes who drank blood, and a final series of masks resemble the local jaguars, which awake from their jungle slumbers at dusk.
In Maya culture the sun is closely associated with new beginnings and the sun god with kingship, Houston explained. So the presence of solar visages on a temple next to a royal tomb may signify that the person buried inside was the founder of a dynasty-El Zotz's first king.
It's an example of "how the sun itself would have been grafted onto the identity of kings and the dynasties that would follow them," he said in a press statement.
Maya archaeologist David Freidel added, "Houston's hypothesis is likely correct that the building was dedicated to the sun as a deity closely linked to rulership. The Diablo Pyramid will certainly advance our knowledge of Early Classic Maya religion and ritual practice."
The archeologists are particularly excited by the craftsmanship of the stucco masks — and what they must have represented. Than writes:
Archaeologist Karl Taube points out the craftsmanship of the masks. "They're three-dimensional. The faces push out of the side of the facade. You don't really see that very often ... because if they project too much they fall off. But here they were able to pull it off.
"With the play of light on these things, the faces would have been extremely dramatic," said Taube, of the University of California, Riverside (UCR),who also was not involved in the project.
Project leader Houston added that the masks' color-crimson, according to paint traces-would have also helped them stand out. "With that bright red pigment, it would have had a particularly marked effect at dawn and at the setting of the sun," Houston said.
Blazing red and perched on high, the Temple of the Night Sun was meant "to see and to be seen," Houston said.
There's lots more to this finding at National Geographic, so check it out.
Photograph courtesy Edwin Román, Brown University via National Geographic.