The Maya pyramid beautifully decorated with a rare polychrome-painted stucco frieze was unearthed in July at the site of Holmul, a Classic Mayan city in northeastern Peten region of Guatemala. (Agencies)
The carving depicts human figures in a mythological setting, suggesting these may be deified rulers.
The find came as archaeologist Francisco Estrada-Belli's team excavated in a tunnel left open by looters. The stucco relief stands along the exterior of a multi-roomed rectangular building, measuring 8m in length and 2m in height.
Much of the building still remains encased under the rubble of a later 20m-high structure. The carving is painted in red, with details in blue, green and yellow.
"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," said Estrada-Belli.
The team had hoped to find clues to the function of this building, since the unearthing of an undisturbed tomb. The burial contained an individual accompanied by 28 ceramic vessels and a wooden funerary mask.
An inscription below the figures tells us that this edifice was commissioned by the ruler of Naranjo, a powerful kingdom to the south of Holmul, researchers said.
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 Mayan Lowlands well beyond this small kingdom.
"One of the glyphs describes Ajwosaj as 'vassal of the Kanul king,' suggesting a much wider network of influences was being felt at Holmul. When this building was erected, Kanul kings were already on their way to controlling much of the lowlands, except Tikal of course," added Estrada-Belli.
The text places the building in the decade of the 590s, according to Alex Tokovinine, a Harvard University Mayan epigrapher associated with the project who has deciphered the text.
"Ajwosaj was one of the greatest rulers of Naranjo. The new inscription 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," said Tokovinine.
The Maya pyramid beautifully decorated with a rare polychrome-painted stucco frieze was unearthed in July at the site of Holmul, a Classic Mayan city in northeastern Peten region of Guatemala.