Stucco head of the God of Maize discovered in Palenque
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Stucco head of the God of Maize discovered in Palenque
The sculpture is the focal point of an offering that was apparently arranged on a pond, simulating the entry of the deity into the underworld, in an aquatic setting. Photo: Proyecto Arqueológico Palenque.

Translated by: Liz Marie Gangemi

MEXICO CITY.- Specialists from the National Institute of Anthropology and History (INAH), a department belonging to the Ministry of Culture of the Government of Mexico, discovered the representation of the young Maize God in the Palenque Archaeological Zone, in Chiapas.

This is the first such finding of a stucco head of this important Mayan deity on the site. The discovery was registered in 2021 during the renovation project "Architectural Conservation and Decorative Enhancements of El Palacio", which was made possible through the Ambassadors Fund of the State Department for Cultural Preservation, sponsored by the United States Government.

During July of that year, the interdisciplinary team undertaking the initiative, which was co-directed by Archaeologist Arnoldo González Cruz and Researcher Haydeé Orea Magaña, observed a careful alignment of stones in a hallway connecting the rooms of B House of El Palacio with those of the adjacent F House.

The nose and half-open mouth of the deity emerged from inside of a semi square receptacle-formed by three walls-and covered by a layer of loose dirt.

As the excavation progressed, they discovered that the sculpture is the focal point of a lavish offering within a pond and plastered walls to simulate within an aquatic setting the entry of the God of Maize into the underworld.

"The discovery of the site grants us an opportunity to understand how the ancient Mayans of Palenque regularly recreated the mythical passages regarding birth, death and resurrection of the God of Maize," declared the INAH Chiapas Center’s, Arnoldo González Cruz.

The archaeologist and his colleagues Carlos Varela Scherrer and Wenceslao Urbina Cruz, who assisted as field chiefs, described how the stucco head symbolizes the birth of the maize plant beneath the first rays of the sun.

"The figure, which is sculpted around a limestone support, has graceful characteristics: the chin is sharp, pronounced and split; the lips are thin and project outward (the lower one is tilted slightly downwards) and the upper incisors peek through. The cheekbones are high; and the eyes are slanted and thin; and the nose is projected from a broad, long, flat and rectangular shaped forehead,” they further described.

Also of significance are the fragments of a tripod dish on which the sculpture was placed, as originally the piece “was considered to be a severed head”. This notion arose by comparing the iconography of the young Maize God with other pieces and documents from the Tardío and Tikal period in which this deity and characters linked to it appear with a severed head.

González Cruz explained that this archaeological perspective is the conclusion of several events: the first consisting of the use of the pond as a mirror of water to see a reflection of the cosmos.

It is likely that these nocturnal rituals started during the reign of K'inich Janaab' Pakal I (615-683 AD) and continued through those of K'an Bahlam II (684-702 AD), K'an Joy ChitamII (702-711 AD) and Ahkal Mo' Nahb' III (721-736 AD).

After that, perhaps during the reign of the latter, they symbolically closed off that space, by demolishing a portion of the stucco floor of the pond and filling it in with vegetables, animal bones (mainly quail, white turtle, white fish and domestic dog), shells, crab claws, carved bone fragments, ceramic pieces, three parts of miniature anthropomorphic figurines, 120 obsidian knives, green stone beads and 2 shell beads, as well as seeds and small snails.

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June 7, 2022

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