An image from El Zotz depicts the Maya sun god
An image on a wall of an archaeological site in Guatemala is giving insights about Mayan beliefs about the heavens, and the sun in
particular, scientists say.
Researchers led by a Brown University scientist have uncovered a pyramid at El Zotz believed to celebrate the Maya sun god, with the structure's outer walls depicting the god in a set of images done in painted stucco.
"The stuccos provide unprecedented insight into how the Maya conceived of the heavens," Brown anthropologist Stephen Houston said, "how they thought of the sun, and how the sun itself would have been grafted onto the identity of kings and the dynasties that would follow them."
The ornately decorated structure is topped by a temple covered in a series of masks depicting different phases of the sun.
Sitting on a high escarpment overlooking the main part of El Zotz, an ancient Maya city, the pyramid would have been a spectacular presence 1,600 years ago, Houston said.
Painted red, the temple was intended to represent the power of the ruling dynasty, he said, and would have been at its brightest during the rising and setting of the sun and visible up to 15 miles away.
"The sun was a key element of Maya rulership," Houston said. "It was an icon which they linked very deliberately to royal lines, royal identity, and royal power."