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Archaeologists discover a sculpture representing a jaguar estimated to be 2,000 years old
The engraved sculpture, estimated to be about 2,000 years old, was found in a riverbed. Photo: Centro INAH Chiapas.

Translated by: Cristina Perez-Ayala

CHIAPAS.- A monolithic sculpture representing a jaguar lying down, weighing about a ton was discovered recently in the pre Hispanic site of Izapa, in the Soconusco region of Chiapas. The engraved sculpture, estimated to be about 2,000 years old, was found in a riverbed and because of its weight it was not taken out immediately, but until a few days ago. The maneuvers –made by the National Institute of Anthropology and History (INAH – Conaculta)– needed to rescue the piece required more than seven hours.

This is the 91st sculpture registered in the archaeological zone of Izapa, one of the pre Hispanic sites in Chiapas that holds the most quantity of discovered monuments –284 up to now–, between which are sculptures, altars, thrones and steles. Some of these monoliths are plain and others have engravings that have been classified by experts as extraordinary by the quantity of strokes and their iconographic richness.

Captured in Izapa’s monuments is the world view of the people that built this city approximately 2,500 – 2,000 years ago, possibly of mixe-zoque relations, predecessors to Mayan culture; some images refer to diverse myths that are narrated in the Popol Vuh, the sacred book of the Mayans.

Emiliano Gallaga Murrieta, director of the INAH-Chiapas center, reported that the new monument is 1.38 meters large (4.53 feet) by 87 centimeters (2.8 feet) tall and 52 centimeters (1.7 feet) wide, “only one of his faces is engraved with the features of a jaguar, with both the front and back legs bent as if it were lying down”.

The archaeologist emphasized that this piece not only increases the archaeological riches of Izapa, but it also reiterates the importance of said animal in the ritual beliefs of Mesoamerican cultures. Also, it shows the sensibility of Izapa’s people to embody concepts onto stone.

He also elaborated on the fact that this bulk sculpture was probably in the process of being made since the rest of the stone is plain. “The Izapa sculptures were made with stones because there were no metals in that epoch, and in some cases the natives would use jade chisels. Given the characteristics of the monuments and the material that was used, we estimate it must be about two thousand years old”.

The monolith was found by the end of the 2011 rural season of the Regional Reconnaissance Project of Izapa, directed by archaeologist Robert M. Pinter Rosenwig of the University of Albany, through which only the surface of the Izapa settlement, which consists of 127 acres from the coast to the edge of the mountain heel, was examined.

“In said process, at the end of the rural season, an engraved stone of large dimensions was found at the riverbed of a stream that flows to the Izapa River, inside the property of Mr. Rafael Hernandez Josorio; because the stone was upside down the iconographic motives had not been distinguished, only the fact that the stone had been carved could be seen.

“Because of its dimensions and the site where it was found, the stone couldn’t be removed immediately and so it was left there to be rescued the next season, which began this month of August”, Gallaga Murrieta added.

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