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"Dramatic" New Maya Temple Found, Covered With Giant Faces

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Deborah Valkenburg
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« on: July 21, 2012, 09:21:25 pm »

"Gold Mine of Information"

Maya scholar Simon Martin said the masks on the newfound El Zotz temple are "completely unique" and valuable, because they could help verify theories about Maya portrayals of the sun god.

"We have images of the sun god at different stages ... but we've never found anything that puts it all together," said Martin, of the University of Pennsylvania Museum of Archaeology and Anthropology, who was not involved in the project.

"We've had to assemble [the sequence] from bits and pieces of information and just trust that we got it right. This could be an opportunity to see the whole thing stage by stage."

The temple is also wonderfully well preserved, Martin added, making it a "real gold mine of information."

"We've seen a few places where whole buildings have been preserved," he said. "But normally what happens is [the Maya] smashed up a building and then built on top of it, so when you dig into a building you don't find very much of their decoration."

By contrast, Maya workers at El Zotz went to great pains to preserve the original temple structure, going so far as padding it with earth and small rocks before building on top of it.

(Take a Maya quiz.)

Facing Out

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.

Importantly, it would have been noticeable from Tikal, a larger, older, and more powerful kingdom that El Zotz may or may not have been on friendly terms with.

"We tend to think of kings being completely autonomous, but for the Maya, a sacred king was often part of a hierarchy of kings," the Penn Museum's Martin said.

"So the people at El Zotz at times may have been heavily under the influence of Tikal, and when powers were weak at Tikal, they may have been completely independent or may have linked themselves with more powerful kings somewhere else."

"A Lot More Discoveries" to Come?

Despite the obvious care that was taken to construct and preserve the newfound temple, it wasn't used for long. Evidence at the site suggests the building was abandoned sometime in the fifth century, for reasons unknown.

"It's like they just dropped their tools and left" in the middle of once again expanding the temple, Houston said. "I think what you're looking at is the death of a dynasty."

The answer to this mystery and others could become evident as more of the Temple of the Night Sun is uncovered.

"Only 30 percent of this facade has been exposed," UCR's Taube said. "I think there're going to be a lot more discoveries and a broader understanding of what this building actually shows in the future."

More: See National Geographic pictures of Maya ruins and artifacts >>

http://news.nationalgeographic.com/news/2012/07/120720-maya-temple-el-zotz-masks-faces-science-houston/
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