Temple Of The Night Sun
A 1600-year-old Mayan temple has recently been uncovered, hiding in the jungles of Guatemala. Scientists discovered the temple—and the immense stucco masks inside—buried under centuries of undergrowth, behind a site known as the Diablo Pyramid.
In 2010, a team of archeologists, led by Steven Houston of Brown University, were excavating and examining the Diablo Pyramid—a 45-foot high (13 meter) structure in the hills above the ancient Mayan city of El Zotz. After finding and following some looters’ tunnels (dug decades earlier), the scientists saw some masks partially revealed in the dirt. They realised a whole new building lay behind the Pyramid.
Now named the “Temple of the Night Sun,” the walls of the temple are covered with five-foot tall (1.3m), three-dimensional stucco masks. Together, they show the Sun God’s passage across the sky. At the start of the journey, one mask resembles a shark (representing the sun rising from the Caribbean); in the middle, a cross-eyed mask drinks blood (representing the noon sun), and in the end, the masks are similar to jaguars who wake at dusk and live in the Guatemalan forest.
The masks were once brightly decorated, and the temple itself was painted a vivid red. It would have been visible from miles away, especially at dusk and dawn, when the sun’s rays would have made the temple catch fire. (Not literally, of course!)
Why did this temple exist?
It is believed the Diablo Pyramid, which houses a tomb and palace, was the burial place of El Zotz’ first king, who lived between 350-400 AD. The Mayans worshipped the Sun God, and having the temple behind the tomb building would link the Sun God to the king, making him seem more powerful.
Mayan culture was spread across Guatemala, Belize and the Mexican Yucatán Peninsula. Unlike the Aztecs and Incas, the Mayans didn’t have a central ruling city. Historians say that the numerous Mayan kingdoms probably jostled for power, each one trying to be more impressive than the other. El Zotz was a small kingdom, but tried to make itself into a stronger dynasty by creating a strong link between the great Sun God and their king. The huge pyramid and its striking temple would have been a very impressive sight for the neighbouring cities.
More to be found...
Houston said, in a recent National Geographic interview*, that the temple is a “tangible statement of royal power,” and is “one of the most ambitiously decorated buildings in ancient America.” There is also much more to discover; the team has found eight masks so far, and believe there’s at least six more to be found. It is exciting to think what the team might unearth, and what their findings will teach us about this ancient civilization.
Courtesy: National Geographic