Extraordinary Carving Discovered Inside Ancient Maya Pyramid

Archaeologists are calling it a "once-in-a-lifetime find" — a 1,400 year-old frieze vividly decorated with images of gods and rulers. Considered a work of art, the carving is shedding new light into this ancient culture.

The high-relief stucco sculpture was discovered last month by Guatemalan archeologist Francisco Estra-Bellie and his team from Tulane University’s anthropology department.

They were exploring a Maya pyramid that dates to 590 A.D. in an area known to contain other ancient ruin sites. The pyramid is located near the town of Holmul in the Peten region of Guatemala, where Maya civilization thrived from around 800 B.C. to 850 A.D.

Extraordinary Carving Discovered Inside Ancient Maya Pyramid

The frieze, which measures 26 feet in length and almost seven feet across, depicts a ruler atop a mountain spirit. An inscription reads "The Storm God enters the sky." The archaeologists say that it's providing important clues about changes to power in Maya groups as they warred against each other.

Extraordinary Carving Discovered Inside Ancient Maya Pyramid

The carving is so well-preserved that many of its original colors remain.

Extraordinary Carving Discovered Inside Ancient Maya Pyramid

The stucco depicts three human figures who are wearing rich ornaments of quetzal feathers and are seated cross-legged over the head of a mountain spirit. Jade rests on the heads of monsters. Feathered serpents are shown emerging from the mountain spirit beneath the central character, framing two gods who hold signs reading "First Tamale."

According to the archaeologists, the carving was constructed about 30 years after the ancient kingdom of Tikal suffered a major defeat — resulting in 200 years of dominance by the Kaanul kingdom and their allies.

Images: Francisco Estrada-Bell.

[LiveScience, LA Times]