Category Archives: GUATEMALA

A private collector is returning a Mayan artefact to Guatemala

A private collector is returning a Mayan artefact to Guatemala

A private collector has returned a Mayan artefact to Guatemala after it was initially slated for auction in 2019. The stone fragment depicts a bird headdress belonging to an ancient ruler of Piedras Negras, the capital of a Mayan kingdom that flourished between the 4th century BC and 9th century AD and is located in what’s now northwestern Guatemala.

A private collector is returning a Mayan artefact to Guatemala
The artefact disappeared from the Mayan site of Piedras Negras in the 1960s

Hundreds of Mayan artefacts were discovered along train construction routes in Mexico.

The object was likely looted from a Mayan archaeological site in the 1960s and eventually ended up in the hands of a prominent Los Angeles art dealer, the Los Angeles Times reported.

From there, it was bought by another art dealer in Paris and ultimately acquired by private collectors Manichak and Jean Aurance, according to the newspaper. Then in 2019, it was included as part of an auction of pre-Columbian artefacts in Paris, estimated to fetch $27,000 to $39,000.

Guatemala and Mexico objected to some of the items in the auction being put up for sale, arguing that they had been stolen and demanding their return.

Though the auction continued mostly as planned, the carving of the bird headdress was withdrawn from the sale after Guatemala was able to prove its provenance with drawings and pictures dating back to its discovery in 1899, a spokesperson for UNESCO wrote in an email to CNN.

Negotiations took place between Guatemala, the French government, UNESCO and the private collector, the spokesperson said, and the collector ultimately decided to return the artefact to Guatemala. On Monday, UNESCO held a ceremony to mark the return.

The artefact disappeared from the Mayan site of Piedras Negras in the 1960s

“The voluntary handover of this fragment of a Mayan stela to its homeland in Guatemala showcases the evolution of the international environment in favour of the return of emblematic cultural objects and artefacts to their homelands under UNESCO’s guidance over the last 50 years,” UNESCO Director-General Audrey Azoulay said in a statement.

“It also shows the importance of the UNESCO 1970 Convention in fighting the illicit trafficking of cultural objects. This success story has been possible thanks to international cooperation and a private collector’s goodwill; it is a model for others to follow.”

The artefact will soon be sent to the National Museum of Archaeology and Ethnology of Guatemala City where visitors will be able to view it and learn about its history, according to UNESCO.

The stone carving’s return to Guatemala comes at a time of wider reckoning for museums, galleries and other institutions.

In recent years, several such institutions have taken steps to repatriate historical objects to their places of origin — Cambridge University is set to return a Benin bronze looted during British colonial rule to Nigeria this week, while the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York announced earlier this year it was returning three treasures of African art to Nigeria as well.

Meanwhile, the pressure on museums continues to mount — Cambodia recently began pushing the Met to review the provenance of a number of items, asserting that they were looted from the country’s ancient sites during decades of war and tumult.

Cutting-edge Laser Technology Uncovers Secrets of Maya holy city

Cutting-edge Laser Technology Uncovers Secrets of Maya holy city

The steamy jungles of northern Guatemala don’t reveal secrets easily. For centuries, the overgrown landscape has protected most of the remains of the Maya who once tamed it — yielding slowly to modern scientists seeking to learn more about the ancient civilization known for its sophisticated hieroglyphic script, art, architecture and mathematics.

The Maya civilization began to emerge about 3,000 years ago, and reached its peak during the Classic Period, from about A.D. 250-900.

Now, technology that allows for digital deforestation has uncovered thousands of new Maya structures previously undetected beneath smothering vegetation. For archaeologists like Thomas Garrison, assistant professor of anthropology at Ithaca College, the findings have done far more than recast notions of the size and density of the Central American society.

“Frankly, it’s turning our discipline on its head,” he said.

Garrison helped orchestrate the 2016 aerial survey these revelations stem from. The findings and the technology behind them — LiDAR (light detection and ranging) — will be the focus of a new National Geographic documentary titled “Lost Treasures of the Maya Snake King.” The documentary will follow a NatGeo explorer as he treks deep in the jungle to seek out a pyramid detected in the survey.

Project leader Richard Hansen with the LiDAR system.

Garrison appears in the documentary commenting on the LiDAR mapping and its results. The program will also feature custom-designed images of many of the newly revealed structures, as translated from the data.

Laser Show in the Jungle

LiDAR is a method of mapping from the sky: An aeroplane-mounted device sends a constant pulse of laser light across a swath of terrain; precise measurements of how long it takes the emitted breams to bounce off surfaces are taken and translated into topographic data.

The LiDAR system was mounted on this small plane.

The laser pierces through the smallest gaps in the vegetation to record the lay of the land below with remarkable accuracy. The resulting data can be tweaked to filter out the trees, thus offering an unencumbered view of everything else on the surface.

The technology is a boon for surveys in jungles like those in lowland Guatemala, where dense canopy hinders other methods of aerial survey and thick undergrowth can conceal the relationship even between known structures.

“In that kind of environment where you can’t see [a few feet in front of yourself], it’s very hard to piece that all together,” Garrison said. In a swampy area of rolling hillocks rising from the muck, for example: “You have this idea that there’s some little stuff on the hills, but the LiDAR lets you see it in its totality.”

The survey of 2,100-square kilometres encompassed several major Maya sites, including the largest at Tikal, and El Zotz, where Garrison focuses his research.

The LiDAR mapping revealed over 60,000 previously unknown structures in total, from unknown pyramids, palace structures, terraced fields, roadways, defensive walls and towers, and houses. Archaeologists are realizing that the ancient population centres they’ve spent decades studying are much bigger than they speculated.

With Global Conservation’s support, scientists mapped more than 60,000 houses, palaces, canals, and other man-made structures that had previously been obscured by the thick jungle. Image courtesy Mirador Basin Project.
El Mirador from the air. Without LiDAR to penetrate the dense rainforest canopy, this area simply looks like a vast expanse of wilderness. A straight line through the trees in the lower third of the image hints at the massive, ancient causeway below. Only with LiDAR could scientists begin to understand the true extent of the ancient city (below).
A three-dimensional rendering of the ancient city of El Mirador, produced from LiDAR data. To the naked eye, this area simply looks like a vast expanse of rainforest (above). Image courtesy Mirador Basin Project.

“Everyone is seeing larger, denser sites. Everyone,” Garrison said. “There’s a spectrum to it, for sure, but that’s universal: everyone has missed settlement in their [previous] mapping.”

Especially telling to Garrison are newly revealed agricultural features that would be necessary to support the lowland Maya population during their centuries of civilization — population estimates have now expanded from a few million to 10-20 million — and defensive structures that suggest warfare was far more prevalent than previously known.

Only the Beginning

The LiDAR survey is a collaboration between archaeologists from the U.S., Europe and Guatemala, and the Fundación PACUNAM (Patrimonio Cultural y Natural Maya), a Guatemalan philanthropic and cultural heritage preservation organization.

Garrison serves as one of the archaeology advisors to the project and was fundamental in lobbying for the survey, which is now the single largest ever conducted in the field of Mesoamerican archaeology. Fundraising is already taking place for a second LiDAR survey of similar size, he said.

The LiDAR findings are only the beginning. There is still much to discover about the rise, peak and fall of the Maya civilization. The LiDAR data points to new areas where those answers may be found through fieldwork and excavation.

An artist’s rendering of the ancient city of El Mirador.

“That’s the challenge now. Now we have so much data,” Garrison said. “How do we handle it and how do we move forward with it? We’ve still got to get to those places, we’ve still got to check them out.

“It’s difficult to convey how exciting this time is for us.”

Guatemalan family uncovers ancient Mayan murals on their kitchen walls during a home renovation

Guatemalan family uncovers ancient Mayan murals on their kitchen walls during a home renovation

Home renovations in a Guatemalan mountain village in 2003 unearthed “unparalleled” Maya murals, according to researchers. Now, reports broadcast network RT, a new analysis published in the journal Antiquity has revealed additional insights on the wall paintings, which date to the 17th or 18th century and blend Spanish colonial influences with local indigenous culture.

Lucas Asicona Ramirez, right, discovered the centuries-old paintings after he started chipping away at the plaster in the kitchen of his house.

Local historian and study co-author Lucas Asicona Ramírez found the murals while renovating his kitchen in Chajul, a rural town in Guatemala’s highlands, reported Mike McDonald for Reuters in 2012.

Several houses in Chajul, including Asicona’s, date to the colonial era (1524 to 1821); other locals have discovered similarly historic artworks behind the plaster in their homes.

The Ramirez home is located in the impoverished town of Chajul, Guatemala.
Researchers work to preserve the Maya wall paintings inside the Chajul home.

The majority of Guatemala’s colonial-era murals are found in houses of worship. Centered on Christian themes, these religious artworks were used by the Spanish to assert their dominance over the Maya people, writes Tom Fish for Express. In contrast, the Chajul wall paintings appear inside private homes—and, most tellingly, contain distinct flourishes of indigenous culture.

“We consider these murals to be very unique,” Ivonne Putzeys, an archaeologist at the University of Guatemala in San Carlos, told Reuters. “It’s a tangible heritage that represents [s] real scenes from history.”

In 2015, an international team of researchers started preserving and studying the murals in collaboration with a Maya community indigenous to Guatemala: the Ixil. This group formed the bulk of the roughly 200,000 people killed during the Guatemalan Civil War, which lasted from 1960 to 1996.

As the experts write in the paper, conducting interviews and consultations with the Ixil was essential to understanding the art’s cultural context.

Many of the friezes feature dancers and musicians. Jaroslaw Źrałka, an archaeologist at Jagiellonian University and first author of the new study, tells Ancient Origins’ Ed Whelan that dance played an important role in the Maya civilization, both recording and relaying history and cultural practices. The dance was so important to the Maya that Spanish missionaries used it as a conversion tool, says Źrałka.

Through interviews with the Chajul Ixil community, the researchers were able to identify specific murals as depictions of known dances from the colonial era.

A mural of ancient vessels adorns the wall next to the family’s stove.

One mural shows tall, bearded conquistadors playing drums as they encounter a dancer dressed in a traditional feathered costume. This scene may illustrate the Dance of the Conquest, which details Spain’s invasion and attempts to convert the Maya to Christianity.

Another mural may show the Dance of the Moors and the Christians. Introduced by the Spaniards, this performance tells the story of Spain’s seizure of lands occupied by Muslim kingdoms, according to Express.

The researchers note that the wall art may also feature dances now lost to history. Many were forgotten when the government prohibited the performance of indigenous dances in the 19th and 20th centuries.

Chemical analysis of the paintings revealed the use of natural clay pigments typical in Maya art, suggesting the murals were indeed created by indigenous artists, reports Ancient Origins. The artworks’ style hews closely to local traditions, showing few signs of foreign influences.

The researchers suggest that the houses in which the murals were found once belonged to key community members—perhaps members of what was known as the cofradías, or brotherhood.

These groups organized religious events connected to both Christian and pre-Hispanic Maya traditions. The houses featuring the friezes may have served as meeting places or venues for rituals and dances.

Per the paper, the murals’ blending of Maya and European imagery could mean that local culture, as revived by the cofradías, was making a defiant comeback as Spain’s influence and control over the region faded.

One of the Largest Pyramids on Earth is Hidden Beneath the Forest

One of the Largest Pyramids on Earth is Hidden Beneath the Forest

A group of explorers set on solving the mystery of a long lost pyramid hidden deep in the Guatemala jungle rumoured to be larger than the Great Pyramid of Giza, received the treat of their lives.

El Mirador is a pre-Columbian Mayan settlement, located to the north of El Peten in Guatemala, first photographed from the air in 1930, but its remote location meant further exploration was limited. In 2003, Richard D. Hansen, an archaeologist from Idaho State University, initiated a major investigation and, although his team discovered that the area contained striking examples of the Preclassic Maya civilisation, its location prevented extensive documentation. However, 16 years on, digital media company Yes Theory have changed that, uncovering two large pyramids in the complex.

Thomas Brag, Ammar Kandil and Matt Dajer trekked for four days on foot through the Guatemala jungle, alongside seven other creators to fulfil Mr Kandil’s dream to climb a pyramid.

Documenting every step of their experience, they released “Finding the Lost Largest Pyramid in the World” on their website and later on YouTube on September 15, 2019.

First uncovering the colossal structure, Mr Dajer exclaimed: “We’ve just arrived at the very, very bottom base of a pyramid.

“You would never guess just walking through here, but this entire thing is limestone underneath and this is part of the pyramid.

The pyramid was hiding in the Guatemala jungle

“You can’t even grasp fully in your mind how huge this must have looked when it was for real.” The group then began making the monumental 50-minute-long journey up thousands of steps.

Mr Brag told the camera: “So these are the steps to the second platform and this entire thing that we are on is a man built.

“So once they started digging up the soil from what’s been layered up on top of this over thousands of years, they’re actually discovering the giant construction and the insane labour that it was to build this.

“This is just the steps up, I can’t even see the top from here.

“This is way bigger than I expected, it is insane.”

Eventually, they made it to the top, and the whole crew were left taken back.

The pyramid can be seen pocking out the jungle

Drone footage shows the pyramid-like never seen before.

An emotional Mr Kandil reflected during the film: “This is all to do with a dream I had.

“Everything about Yes Theory is saying ‘yes’ to those dreams that you think are so far-fetched.

“It’s being constantly in the pursuit to go after those dreams, to go after the things that matter the most to you in life.

“As you’re in the pursuit to do something you love and to do something that you dream of, you never who that inspires or what that ends up contributing to your life.

“Sometimes we end up achieving the dreams we never even knew we had.”

There are roughly 35 “triadic” structures in El Mirador, consisting of large artificial platforms topped with a set of three summit pyramids.  The most notable of such structures are the two huge complexes explored in the documentary, one is nicknamed “El Tigre”, with a height of 55 metres, while the other is called “La Danta”.

The La Danta temple measures approximately 72 metres (236 ft) tall from the forest floor and considering its total volume (2,800,000 cubic meters) is considered the largest in the world by many archaeologists.

For comparison, the Great Pyramid of Giza is 139 metres tall, but 2,583,283 cubic metres in volume. That has not stopped one of the Seven Wonder of the Ancient World from making headlines too, though.

Extraordinary Carving Discovered Inside Ancient Maya Pyramid

Extraordinary Carving Discovered Inside Ancient Maya Pyramid

An enormous stone design by the ancient Mayan civilization that has persisted for centuries locked within a pyramid in Guatemala shows a battle of superpowers in 6th Century Central America, archaeologists have said.

The massive frieze with inscriptions and the vividly coloured painting was found at the Holmul archaeological excavation at a dig in the northeast Peten region of the country. Archaeologists claim that the evidence indicates that the region’s rulers were embroiled in a political clash of the titans between the kings of Kaanul – the Snake Kingdom – and the kings of Tikal.

The frieze, which is eight metres wide and two metres tall and stands along the exterior of a multi-roomed rectangular building, was found in a 20-metre high pyramid built in the 8th Century, in a style typical of the Maya. Much of the building still remains encased under the rubble of the later 20m-high structure. The carving is painted in red, with details in blue, green and yellow.

Francisco Estrada-Belli, director of the Holmul Archaeological Project that made the discovery, said: ‘This is a unique find. It is a beautiful work of art and it tells us so much about the function and meaning of the building, which was what we were looking for.’

The carving depicts human figures in a mythological setting, suggesting they may be deified rulers. It shows three human figures wearing elaborate bird headdresses and jade jewels seated cross-legged over the head of a mountain spirit known as a witz.

A cartouche on the headdress contains glyphs identifying each individual by name. The central figure’s name is the only one that is legible but the inscription says Och Chan Yopaat, meaning ‘the storm god enters the sky.’

Two feathered serpents emerge from the mountain spirit below the main character and form an arch with their bodies. Under each of them is a seated figure of an aged god holding a sign that reads ‘the first tamale.’

The carving is so well-preserved that many of its original colors remain.
Illustration for article titled Extraordinary Carving Discovered Inside Ancient Maya Pyramid

In front of the serpents’ mouths are the two additional human figures, also seated on mountain spirit heads. At the bottom of the carving, there are bands of glyphs that reveal the grand frieze was commissioned by the ruler of Naranjo – a superpower kingdom south of Holmul.

In the dedication, king Ajwosaj Chan K’inich claims to have restored the local ruling line and patron deities. The images and glyphic text on the frieze also provide information about political actors in the Maya Lowlands well beyond this small kingdom.

The writing says the ruler, was also referred to as a ‘vassal of the Kaanul king’ the snake lord.

‘When this building was erected, Kanul kings were already on their way to controlling much of the lowlands, except Tikal of course,’ said Estrada-Belli.

Mr Estrada-Belli told NBC News: ‘It’s all a grand scheme of building a Maya empire. Sometimes the Kaanul kings were on top. Sometimes Tikal was on top. But there was nothing chaotic about it.’

At the bottom of the carving there are bands of glyphs (pictured) that reveal the grand frieze was commissioned by the ruler of Naranjo – a superpower kingdom south of Holmul. In the dedication, king Ajwosaj Chan K¿inich claims to have restored the local ruling line and patron deities

According to Alex Tokovinine, a Harvard University Maya epigrapher who worked on the project, the text places the building in the decade of the 590s and provides the first glimpse of the remarkable extent of Ajwosaj’s political and religious authority.

‘It also reveals how a new order was literally imprinted on a broader landscape of local gods and ancestors,’ she said.

At the time, the Tikal kings had established new dynasties and far-reaching alliances with kingdoms throughout the Maya Lowlands, perhaps thanks to a connection with Mesoamerica’s greatest state, Teotihuacan.

Tikal suffered a defeat in the year 562 by the Kanul ‘Snake’ kingdom, which, for the following 180 years, would come to dominate most other Lowland kingdoms. The find came as the team excavated in a tunnel left open by looters. The archaeologists unearthed a tomb associated with the pyramid last year containing an individual accompanied by 28 ceramic vessels and a wooden funerary mask.

It was found in a cavity dug into the stairway leading up to the building and the skeleton of an adult male and his ceramic offering were preserved by large limestone slabs that kept the tomb free of debris.

Intriguingly his incisor and canine teeth had been drilled and filled with jade beads, while two miniature flower-shaped ear spools were also found. The archaeologists said the iconography on the vessels discovered in the tomb bore clear references to the nine lords of the underworld as well as to the aged sun god of the underworld.

There were two sets of nine painted bowls decorated with the water lily motif and nine red-painted plates and one spouted tripod plate decorated with the image of the god of the underworld emerging from a shell.  Because of the unusually high number of vessels and the jade dental decorations, Mr Estrada-Belli believes the individual found may have been a member of the ruling class at Holmul.

Impressive Water Purification System Found at Ancient Maya City

Impressive Water Purification System Found at Ancient Maya City

For fundamental human life, water is necessary. Yet polluted water can also spread lethal viruses that can kill whole communities. Safe, clean water offers humanity one of its best chances to thrive.

Many ancient cultures purified their rivers, including the Greeks, Egyptians and Romans. Water treatment methods are also mentioned in Sanskrit texts dating from 2,000 BCE. Now, archaeologists have also discovered the Mayan of South America – and their water filtration mechanism was amazingly effective.

In a reservoir in what was once the major Maya city of Tikal, the ruins of which crumble in a rainforest in present-day Guatemala, archaeologists have found zeolite and quartz – minerals that are not local to the area, and which are both effective at helping remove contaminants such as microbes, heavy metals, and nitrogen compounds from water.

So effective, in fact, that they are both used in water filtration systems today.

“What’s interesting is this system would still be effective today, and the Maya discovered it more than 2,000 years ago,” said anthropologist Kenneth Barnett Tankersley of the University of Cincinnati.

Zeolite, in particular, is interesting. It’s a natural crystalline compound of silicon and aluminium, linked via shared oxygen atoms to form an open crystal lattice. It has excellent absorption and ion exchange properties, which makes it very effective at filtering water.

But, although the ancient Greeks and Romans used it as a pozzolan – an ingredient for cement – in aquatic structures such as bridges and aqueducts, archaeologists thought that zeolite hadn’t been used for water filtration until around the beginning of the 20th century.

“The apparent zeolite filtration system at Tikal’s Corriental reservoir is the oldest known example of water purification in the Western Hemisphere,” the authors wrote, “and the oldest known use of zeolite for decontaminating drinking water in the world.”

The ability to have clean water was of deep importance to the Maya, and of great concern, particularly to Tikal. The city’s only water source was 10 reservoirs. Given the large population, and the highly variable climate that went through periods of seasonal drought, their drinking water was prone to contamination from both microbes and cinnabar, or mercury sulfide, a pigment the Maya used heavily.

It stands to reason that they had some means of keeping the water clean. So Tankersley and his team went to investigate. They studied three of the largest reservoirs in the ancient city, as well as a local sinkhole as a control for mineral composition.

The discovery was made in the Corriental reservoir, an important source of drinking water for the residents of Tikal, and one of the largest drinking water reservoirs in use by the Maya for over a thousand years. Mixed in among the sediment at the bottom of the reservoir, the team found what they were looking for: zeolite and coarse quartz sand.

The zeolite was found only in the Corriental reservoir. There’s no way it could have just happened to be there when the reservoir was dug.

In fact, the team believes that the mineral was quarried from a site some 30 kilometres (18 miles) northeast of Tikal. There, volcanic rock forms an aquifer known to produce exceptionally clear water. University of Cincinnati geographer Nicholas Dunning was familiar with the area after previously conducting fieldwork there.

“It was an exposed, weathered volcanic tuff of quartz grains and zeolite. It was bleeding water at a good rate,” Dunning said. “Workers refilled their water bottles with it. It was locally famous for how clean and sweet the water was.”

The team compared the Corriental quartz and zeolite from material taken from the aquifer and found that the two were a very close match. They also used radiocarbon dating to determine the age of the sediment and dated it to between 2,185 and 965 years ago.

It’s impossible to know exactly how the filtration system worked, but putting together the evidence, the team believes that it has a pretty good picture.

“The filtration system was likely held behind dry-laid stone walls with the zeolites and macrocrystalline sand-sized quartz crystals further constrained with woven petate (woven reed or palm fibre matting) or other perishable porous material positioned just upstream of, or within the reservoir ingresses, which were periodically ejected into the reservoir during flash floods caused by tropical cyclones,” the researchers wrote in their paper.

And it seems to have worked. Mercury deposits, likely from cinnabar contamination, had previously been found in several other Tikal reservoirs. Not a trace of it could be detected in Corriental.

“The ancient Maya lived in a tropical environment and had to be innovators. This is a remarkable innovation,” Tankersley said.

“A lot of people look at Native Americans in the Western Hemisphere as not having the same engineering or technological muscle of places like Greece, Rome, India, or China. But when it comes to water management, the Maya were millennia ahead.”

60,000 Mayan structures preserved under dense Guatemalan jungle

Lasers Reveal 60,000 Ancient Maya Structures in Guatemala

Researchers have identified more than 60,000 previously unknown structures in northern Guatemala after extensive aerial LiDAR (Light Detection And Ranging) surveys.

Extensive LiDAR scans demonstrated that the region was more densely populated than previously thought

Their findings show that the region’s pre-Columbian civilization was “far more complex and interconnected than most Maya specialists had supposed,” according to National Geographic.

Scientists mapped more than 800 square miles of Guatemala’s Maya Biosphere Reserve and uncovered an extensive network of previously-unknown structures, quarries, farmland, and roads.

Based on the data, researchers believe that the region supported an advanced civilization on par with that of ancient Greece or China, rather than a series of isolated city-states.

Tulane University archaeologist Francisco Estrada-Belli says that the surveys reveal that the region was far more densely populated than previously thought: “it’s no longer unreasonable to think that there were 10 to 15 million people there,” even in areas that were thought to be uninhabitable.

Archaeologists will now study the data to refine their understandings of the region’s inhabitants. The surveys found more than just ancient structures: they found evidence of pits from modern-day looters.

LiDAR mapping has proven to be a useful tool for archaeologists in recent years, who have used the technology to penetrate the dense rainforests of South America to reveal human-made structures that have long been hidden.

The ancient Maya city of Tikal in Guatemala.
Extensive defensive systems and irrigation canals suggest a highly organised workforce.

Aircraft-mounted LiDAR sensors shoot lasers into the ground, which bounce back once they hit an object. While the lasers hit tree leaves and vegetation, they also hit the ground.

Once scientists peel back the forest canopy and underbrush, they’re left with detailed images of the ground.

Last year, author Douglas Preston detailed an expedition to Honduras in his book The Lost City of the Monkey God, where archaeologists used LiDAR to uncover a pair of ancient cities in the middle of an impenetrable rainforest.

The survey comes from The Foundation for Maya Cultural and Natural Heritage (PACUNAM), a Guatemalan nonprofit organization dedicated to historical preservation, archaeological research, environmental conservation, and sustainable economic development.

This project is just the first phase of a three-year project that’s expected to survey 5,000 square miles of the region.

According to Ars Technica, researchers on the project will be submitting their findings to papers soon, but they will be revealing some of their work in an upcoming National Geographic special.

Over half a century ago, deep in the jungles of Guatemala, a gigantic stone head was uncovered 

Over half a century ago, deep in the jungles of Guatemala, a gigantic stone head was uncovered

The face had fine features, thin lips, and a large nose, and its face was directed up at the sky.  Unusually, the face demonstrated Caucasian features that were not consistent with any of the pre-Hispanic races of America.  The discovery rapidly attracted attention, but just as quickly it slipped away into the pages of forgotten history.

News of the discovery first emerged when Dr. Oscar Rafael Padilla Lara, a doctor of philosophy, lawyer and notary, received a photograph of the head in 1987 along with a description that the photograph was taken in the 1950s by the owner of the land where the head was found and that it was located “somewhere in the jungles of Guatemala”. 

The photograph and story were printed in a small article in the newsletter ‘Ancient Skies’, which was picked up and read by well-known explorer and author David Hatcher Childress, one of our guest authors at BBC, who sought out to discover more about the mysterious stone head.

He tracked down Dr. Padilla who reported that he found the owners of the property, the Biener family, on which the monolith was found. The site was 10 kilometers from a small village in La Democracia in the south of Guatemala.

However, Dr. Padilla said that he was in despair when he reached the site and found that the site had been obliterated: “It was destroyed by revolutionaries about ten years ago. We had located the statue too late. It was used as target practice by anti-government rebels. This totally disfigured it, sort of like the way the Sphinx in Egypt had its nose shot off by the Turks, only worse,” he said.

The eyes, nose, and mouth had completely gone. Padilla was able to measure its height as between 4 and 6 meters, with the head resting on a neck. Padilla did not return again to the site due to armed attacks between government forces and rebel forces in the area. 

The destruction of the head meant the story died a rapid death until it was picked up again a few years ago by filmmakers behind “ Revelations of the Mayans 2012 and Beyond ” who used the photograph to claim that extra-terrestrials have had contact with past civilizations.

The producer published a document written by Guatemalan archaeologist Hector E Majia who wrote: “I certify that this monument presents no characteristics of Maya, Nahuatl, Olmec or any other pre-Hispanic civilization.

It was created by an extraordinary and superior civilization with awesome knowledge of which there is no record of existence on this planet.”

However, far from helping the cause and the investigation into the monolith, this publication only served to have the opposite effect, throwing the whole story into the hands of a justifiably skeptical audience who thought that it was all just a publicity stunt. Even the letter itself has been drawn into question with some saying that it is not genuine. 

Nevertheless, it appears the giant head did exist and there is no evidence to suggest the original photograph is not authentic or that Dr. Padilla’s account was false.  So assuming it was real, the questions remain: Where did it come from? Who made it? And why?

The region where the stone head was reported to have been found, La Democracia, is actually already famous for stone heads which, like the stone head found in the jungle, also face skyward. 

These are known to have been created by the Olmec civilization, which flourished between 1400 and 400 BC.  The Olmec heartland was the area in the Gulf of Mexico lowlands, however, Olmec-style artifacts, designs, monuments, and iconography have been found in sites hundreds of kilometers outside the Olmec heartland, including La Democracia. 

Nevertheless, the stone head depicted in the 1950s photograph does not share the same features or style as the Olmec heads.  The late Phillip Coppens, Belgian author, radio host and TV commentator on matters of alternative history raised the question of whether the head “is an anomaly of the Olmec period, or whether it is part of another – unknown – a culture that predated or post-dated the Olmecs, and whose only artifact identified so far is the Padilla head”.

Other questions that have been posed include whether the structure was just a head, or whether there was a body underneath, like the Easter Island statues, and whether the stone head is linked to any other structures in the region. 

It would be nice to know the answers to these questions but sadly it appears the publicity surrounding the film “Revelations of the Mayans 2012 and Beyond” only served to bury the story deeper into the pages of history.  Hopefully an ambitious explorer will pick up the story once again and investigate further to find the truth regarding this enigmatic monument.