GUATEMALA CITY – A Maya altar dating from 300 B.C. was discovered recently in the Tak’alik Ab’aj National Park in southwestern Guatemala, scientists announced last week.
Archaeologist Christa Schieber, director of conservation at the park, told reporters that the altar was discovered a month ago during an excavation.
The piece consists of a number of glyphs carved into a stele showing a turtle upon which an important figure clad in a loincloth is sitting on a throne with his legs crossed.
Schieber said that the find shows a fusion of pre-Columbian cultures, since the turtle is sculpted with the characteristics of the Olmec culture, while the personage shows elements of Maya iconography.
She said that contrary to other Maya finds representing the creation of the world with the corn god emerging from the heart of the turtle, in this latest discovery the personage appears atop the turtle.
“That could describe the taking of power by a real person, a ruler seeking to strengthen his power by putting himself in place of the corn god,” Schieber said.
Miguel Orrego of the Tak’alik Ab’aj park said that the altar measures 1.2 meters wide, 1.5 meters high, and 40 centimeters deep.
Finding the altar near Guatemala’s Pacific coast “is quite an event for the archaeological world,” Orrego said, adding that the discovery offers evidence that the Maya culture could have arisen in southern Guatemala and not in the north as is generally believed.
The Maya culture, which occupied what today is Guatemala, part of El Salvador and southeastern Mexico, arose more than 2,300 years ago from several previous cultures including the Olmec from eastern Guatemala and northwestern Honduras.
Tak’alik Ab’aj National park covers 2 square kilometers. Some 254 sculptured monuments have been found at the site, as well as an astronomic observatory dating back about 1,800 years.