Sculpted head of Mayan maize god uncovered in Mexico

According to Mayan tradition, the maize god was decapitated every year at harvest and was reborn in the new growing season.

 A recently found stuccoed head of the young Mayan god of maize is seen at the Palenque archaeological site in Chiapas state, Mexico. (photo credit: NATIONAL INSTITUTE OF ANTHROPOLOGY AND HISTORY/HANDOUT via REUTERS)
A recently found stuccoed head of the young Mayan god of maize is seen at the Palenque archaeological site in Chiapas state, Mexico.
(photo credit: NATIONAL INSTITUTE OF ANTHROPOLOGY AND HISTORY/HANDOUT via REUTERS)

The sculpted head of a Mayan maize god was discovered during excavations in Palenque, Mexico, a group of archaeologists from the National Institute of Anthropology and History announced last Tuesday.

The discovery, which was initially made in July of last year, was found in a section of the archaeological El Palacio complex when a team headed by Arnoldo González Cruz noticed a stone alignment that caught their interest.

The alignment turned out to be a square receptacle in which they noticed the face of the bust which they measured to be three meters long and one meter wide.

Mayan God Hun Hunahpu

The Mayan maize god, named Hun Hunahpu, was one of the most important gods to the Mayan people. A sacred Mayan book, the Popol Vuh describes how the gods formed humans from dough made of yellow and white maize.

 A recently found stuccoed head of the young Maya maize god is seen at the Palenque archaeological site, in Chiapas state, Mexico. (credit: NATIONAL INSTITUTE OF ANTHROPOLOGY AND HISTORY/HANDOUT via REUTERS) A recently found stuccoed head of the young Maya maize god is seen at the Palenque archaeological site, in Chiapas state, Mexico. (credit: NATIONAL INSTITUTE OF ANTHROPOLOGY AND HISTORY/HANDOUT via REUTERS)

Maize was one of the central staples of the Mayan people, and it was believed by them that Hun Hunahpu was decapitated every year when harvesting began and was reborn when the new agricultural season began. This allowed for the maize crop to grow well.

Because of this belief, Hun Hunahpu was also considered the god of rebirth and the cycles of seasons, and it was through him that the people understood the cycle of human life.

“The discovery of the deposit allows us understand how the ancient Maya of Palenque constantly revived the mythical passage on the birth, death, and resurrection of the maize god.”

Archaeologist Arnoldo González Cruz

“The sculpture, which should have been modeled around a limestone base, has graceful features: the chin is sharp, pronounced, and parted; the lips are fine and were projected from the inside out –the lower lip slightly down--and the central incisors are visible. The cheekbones are fine and rounded, whereas the eyes appear elongated and narrow. The forehead is ample, long, and flat, and a rectangular-shaped nose arises, its dorsum nasi is wide and pronounced”.

The tripod plate on which the head was found led the archaeologists to date the bust to the Late Classical Period (700-850 CE).

Due to the humidity of the place in which the head was unearthed, it is now undergoing a drying process to allow for its restoration.