Summer is the season for corn worshippers, so it’s the perfect time of year to appreciate a recent archeological discovery from Palenque in Chiapas. The highlands and dense rainforest of this southern Mexican state, which borders Guatemala, are flecked with Mayan archaeological sites, one of which recently produced an approximately 1,300-year-old sculpture representing the head of a Mayan maize god, according to the National Institute of Anthropology and History (INAH).
A statement by INAH released on May 31 noted that the artifact was found facing east to west, “which would symbolize the birth of the maize plant with the first rays of the sun.” The sculpture was discovered during conservation work on a corridor connecting sections of a palace complex, inside a pond receptacle “emulating the entrance of the deity to the underworld.”
Corn was a crop of huge significance to various peoples of Mesoamerica, and the maize god was subsequently one of the most important deities, especially in the Classic Period, the golden age of the Mayan Empire. According to research by the Dallas Museum of Art, the earliest representations of the maize god appear among the Early Classic Maya and typically depict a young male with stylized maize on the top of the head. During the Late Classic Period, the so-called “Tonsured Maize God” represented “mature and fertile maize, depicted with an elongated human head shaved in sections across the forehead.” The Palenque sculpture fits with these stylistic parameters.
Because the sculpture was found under extremely wet and humid conditions, it required a period of drying out before restoration efforts could be undertaken. The interdisciplinary team that makes up the initiative to restore the find is co-directed by archaeologist Arnoldo González Cruz and restorer Haydeé Orea Magaña from INAH.
“The discovery allows us to begin to know how the ancient Maya of Palenque constantly relived the mythical passage of the birth, death, and resurrection of the maize deity,” said Cruz in the statement released by INAH.
As we head out for a season of corn on the cob and celebrating colonial holidays, we might all take a moment to give thanks and salute this a-maize-ing discovery!