January 25, 2010 / 10:17 PM / 10 years ago

Find of huge Mayan head suggests significant city

GUATEMALA CITY (Reuters) - Archeologists have discovered a huge Mayan sculptured head in Guatemala that suggests a little-known site in the jungle-covered Peten region may once have been a significant city.

The stucco sculpture, which is 10 feet wide and 11.5 feet tall, was buried for centuries at the Chilonche ruins, close to the border with Belize.

The recent discovery of the head, which dates from the early Classic period between 300 to 600 AD, means the site is much older than previously thought. The Maya often constructed new buildings using older ones as foundations.

“It could be an imaginary being, something from the underworld, perhaps linked to a Mayan deity,” Polytechnic University of Valencia professor Gaspar Munoz, part of the team of archeologists that found the head, told Reuters.

Unlike Guatemala’s famous Mayan cities of Tikal and El Mirador, little excavation has been carried out at Chilonche.

Looters, looking for artifacts to sell on the black market, had dug a small tunnel passing the buried sculpture, which is similar to others decorating a solar observatory at another site, Uaxactun.

Guatemala’s Peten region is home to dozens of Mayan ruins, but the largely jungle-covered area is plagued by looters, poachers and smugglers taking cocaine to Mexico.

Reporting by Sarah Grainger; editing by Chris Wilson

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