The Mayans and the jade mask that could change their history

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The Mayans and the jade mask that could change their history

The deep green of the jade pieces for the face, the white of the Spondylus shells for the eyes and teeth. The fascinating and mysterious jade mask found in a burial identified thanks to laser mapping in the little-known but evidently surprising site of Chochkitam in Guatemala could rewrite part of the history of the Maya. National Geographic tells the story with an article by Erin Blakemore accompanied by a photo by Ruben Salgado Escudero. The discovery in fact certifies religious devotion and royal succession at the beginning of the classical period of the Maya, about 1,700 years ago, but also gives credence to an increasingly widespread theory according to which the Maya kings of the time may have been in the pay of dynasties even more powerful Mesoamericans. “It's a very controversial topic,” says archaeologist and National Geographic Explorer Francisco Estrada-Belli who made the discovery with his team.
Surrounded by the Petén rainforest and suffocated by fallen leaves, palm trees and pieces of stone, the Chochkitam site has unfortunately not escaped the nefarious action of grave robbers. But the team of Francisco Estrada-Belli, who is a professor at the Middle American Research Institute at Tulane University and an expert on the Preclassic and Classic periods of the Maya, noticed a point that the looters had apparently missed and decided to dig for more than seven meters inside a pyramid, believed to be real, in the monumental core of the city. The find rewarded them: a skull, some teeth and a coffin-shaped stone box with offerings such as a vase inside, large clam shells, several bone fragments and a group of pieces of polished jade which Estrada-Belli promptly reconstructed as a jade mask with spiral eyes and sharp shell teeth.
Through the engravings on the bones, the scholars managed to give a name to the mysterious buried king (Itzam Kokaj Bahlam who probably reigned over the city around 350 AD) and to the divinity represented in the mask (Yax Wayaab Chahk G1, manifestation of the Mayan god of storms, literally translated as “first rain god sorcerer”). Although no declaration of vassalage was found on the site, “everything suggests – concludes Estrada-Belli – that he was a Mayan king of a community that was part of a network in the sphere of influence of Tikal and Teotihuacán, both Mesoamerican cities larger and more influential than the relatively remote Chochkitam”.

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