The recent discovery of a new Maya temple in Guatemala has uncovered a possible connection between the king and the sun god. The Temple of the Night Sun in the smaller Mayan kingdom of El Zotz was recently discovered by archaeologists.
In 2010 the researchers had found the 45-foot tall Diablo Pyramid, on top of which was a royal palace and tomb believed to hold the city’s first ruler who lived around 350 to 400 A.D., reported National Geographic.
It was around then that Stephen Houston, an archaeologist with Brown University, and colleagues saw the first signs of the temple behind the royal tomb on Diablo Pyramid. It was only recently that excavations have started to uncover the wonders of the Temple of the Night Sun.
“The Diablo Temple is one of the most ambitiously decorated buildings in ancient America and we have to remember that this building was painted an intense red. That would simply catch fire at dawn and at dusk and would be visible from a long, long distance,” Houston said in a National Geographic video. “It was this tangible statement of royal power.”
The five-foot masks decorating the sides of the temple show the face of the sun god changing as he moves across the sky over the course of the day.
Houston explained to National Geographic that one mask is sharklike, which is probably a reference to the sun rising from the Caribbean in the east.
The cross-eyed mask who drank blood represents the noon sun, and the final series of masks resemble the local jaguars, which wake up at dusk.
Houston explained that because Mayan culture associated the sun with new beginnings and the sun god with kingship, the solar images on the temple next to the tomb may mean the person buried inside was El Zotz’s first king.
“Houston’s hypothesis is likely correct that the building was dedicated to the sun as a deity closely linked to rulership,” Maya archaeologist David Freidel told National Geographic. “The Diablo Pyramid will certainly advance our knowledge of Early Classic Maya religion and ritual practice.”
Maya scholar Simon Martin called the discovery a “gold mine of information” because the temple is so well preserved.
“We’ve seen a few places where whole buildings have been preserved,” he told National Geographic. “But normally what happens is [the Maya] smashed up a building and then built on top of it, so when you dig into a building you don’t find very much of their decoration.”
This temple was protected with earth and small stones before it was built on top of, but researchers say it wasn’t used for long.
“It’s like they just dropped their tools and left” while they were expanding the temple again, Houston told National Geographic. “I think what you’re looking at is the death of a dynasty.”
As more of the Temple of the Night Sun is uncovered the archaeologists hope to find the answers to their questions. Right now only about 30 percent of the façade has been uncovered.