Maya Maize God’s Severed Head Discovered in Palenque

A stuccoed stone head from a 1,300-year-old statue of an ancient Mayan maize god has been unearthed by archaeologists in Mexico.

The head was found among ruins in Palenque. Located close to the Usumacinta River, Palenque (or Lakamha in the Itza language) was a Mayan city state in southern Mexico that ultimately ceased in the 8th century CE. The ruins there date from roughly 226 BCE to 799 CE. The former city is known for its impressive Mayan architecture, sculpture, roof comb, and bas-relief carvings.

Archaeologists with the National Institute of Anthropology and History (INAH) found the head while they were excavating a site in Palenque. While removing debris from a corridor connecting two sections of a palace complex, the team found inside a container with the head in a small pond.

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Researchers believe that the pond was meant to symbolize the entrance to the Mayan underworld. According to Mayan beliefs, the universe was divided into three parts: the sky, the earth, and the underworld. In each were venerated locations that included caves and cenotes, which would have operated as a portal to the subterranean realm, Xibalba, ruled by the Maya death gods and their aids.

Arnoldo González Cruz, a researcher with INAH Chiapas Centre, told Heritage Daily, “The discovery allows us to further understand how the ancient Maya of Palenque relived the mythical passage about the birth, death and resurrection of the maize deity.”

The severed head sculpture would have been placed by the Maya on a tripod. It would have been positioned in an east-west orientation, making it so that the statue would face the sun as it rose. Its positioning was meant to allude to the sun’s role in growing corn plants.

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