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Archaeologists Have Discovered A Mayan Mask As Tall As A Person, But Here’s Why They’ve Already Buried It

In the southeastern Mexican state of Yucatán on the Yucatán Peninsula, an archaeological team digging at a lightly explored site near the tiny, picturesque village of Ucanha uncovered something highly unusual. It was a giant human-looking face, as tall as a person and sculpted in stucco. Its features clearly identified it as a Mayan mask of the ancient Maya civilization, which enjoyed total hegemony in this part of the world more than one thousand years ago.

But this new discovery won’t be put on display for the world to see and here’s why.

A giant Mayan mask as tall as a person has been revealed in the Yucatán.

The mask, which depicts the face of an unknown deity or elite person, was sculpted from the building material stucco and dates back to a period in history known as the Late Preclassic (about 300 B.C. — A.D. 250), according to the news outlet Novedades Yucatán.

The discovery was made in 2017 at the archaeological site of Ucanha, near the modern-day city of Motul, and since then researchers with Mexico’s National Institute of Anthropology and History (INAH) have worked painstakingly to restore it.

In their statement announcing the finding , INAH stated that sculptures like these “represent the faces of individuals with particular features that can be associated with deities or with characters of prominent social status.” It was a common practice in Maya civilization to decorate buildings with large-scale, embedded decorative sculptures, which often featured the faces of rulers or gods.

The team of researches have worked to restore the giant mask and protect it from the elements.

Credit: National Institute of Anthropology and History

The mask is a stucco relief, a type of brightly-colored painted sculpture carved from a background of stucco. The Maya typically placed these masks around stairways with pyramidal bases, according to the statement. Archaeologists have found similar reliefs in Acanceh and Izamal, but this is the first in Ucanha. The discovery is part of ongoing research into Mayan mounds found at the site. 

During the restoration and conservation process, archaeologists reinforced fragile parts of the mask. They also moved sections that had been displaced over time back to their original positions. They also cleaned the surfaces to highlight the mask’s patterns and colors.

Since being restored, the mask has been reburied for its own protection.

The mask was temporarily reburied after its discovery so that the structure was protected until it could be properly studied and preserved. Samples taken from the structure revealed deterioration and it was re-excavated in 2018 so that archaeologists could restore it. 

The archaeologists completed the work in 2019, before reburying the mask for a final time. INAH said the goal of these efforts is to ensure the long-term preservation of the mask at the site, which does not have legal protection.

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