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Ancient Mayan Altars in Guatemala

Ancient Mayan Altars, Sculpted Artwork Discovered in Guatemala


Archaeologists in Guatemala have unearthed an ancient Mayan council house containing altars, incense burners and sculpted images of animals, according to a report in Live Science. The finding is linked with the Chakan Itza culture, descendants of the Yucatecan Mayans who had their capital at Chichén Itzá, Mexico.

The 50 by 50 metre house, which dates to between 1300 and 1500 AD, was uncovered at Nixtun-Ch'ich' in Petén, Guatemala. It had two colonnaded halls constructed side by side and two altars, each of which originally had a sculpted turtle on it. The halls were decorated with sculpted reptile, parrot and turtle imagery. The team of archaeologists also found an incense burner (pictured in feature image), showing the head of Itzamna, a deity who was the shaman of the Mayan gods, as well as other burners that appear to be shaped like a seedling ceiba tree, which held importance to the Maya and today is the national tree of Guatemala.

Maya God Itzamna

Maya God Itzamna: The Maya Book of the Dead. The Ceramic Codex, University of Virginia Art Museum. Source: Wikipedia

Researchers believe that the Mayan group called the Chakan Itza would have used the council house as a place to hold meetings, worship gods, make alliances and officiate marriage ceremonies, and it would have been part of a flourishing settlement. Timothy Pugh, a professor at Queens College in New York, believes that the Chakan Itza decided to destroy the house and move the seat of power elsewhere, which they did on a regular basis according to specific cycles of time on their calendar.

In order to destroy the council house, "they basically conducted a ritual that cancelled out the power of this space," Pugh said. "They destroyed the altars and they covered the building" with a large amount of dirt, he said.

The Itza are believed to have originated from the Classic Period city of Motul de San José near Lake Peten Itza in Guatemala, migrating to Yucatán during the Maya collapse at the end of the Classic Period. From their capital at Chichén Itzá, Mexico they established a trade empire reaching as far south as Naco in Honduras.  Chichen Itza was one of the largest Maya cities and it was likely to have been one of the mythical great cities, or Tollans, referred to in later Mesoamerican literature.

Kukulcan Temple at Chichen Itza, Yucatan, Mexico

Kukulcan Temple at Chichen Itza, Yucatan, Mexico. Credit: ruivalesousa (BigStockPhoto)

The Itza then left or were expelled from the Yucatán region and returned south to the Petén Basin region to build the city Nojpetén (“great island”) as their capital.  The island city of Nojpetén was the capital of the last independent Mayan kingdom; on March 13, 1697, the Itza kingdom finally submitted to Spanish rule. The Itza people suffered many casualties from the conquest and European diseases to which they lacked immunity.  However, some Itza, along with other Mayan people, persevered and continue to live on today.  There are around 2,000 ethnic Itza remaining who retain some aspects of their indigenous culture. However, the Itza language is now almost extinct.

Featured image: This incense burner, showing the head of Itzamna, a deity who was the shaman of the Mayan gods, was discovered at a Mayan council house in Petén, Guatamela. Credit: Photo by Don Rice

By April Holloway



angieblackmon's picture

i like the idea that they closed down a place before leaving it. 

love, light and blessings


Yeah so awesome!
bad weather? Human sacrifice!
good weather? human sacrifice!
human sacrifice? humans sacrifice!

rbflooringinstall's picture

the mayans are so awesome.

Peace and Love,


aprilholloway's picture


April Holloway is a Co-Owner, Editor and Writer of Ancient Origins. For privacy reasons, she has previously written on Ancient Origins under the pen name April Holloway, but is now choosing to use her real name, Joanna Gillan.

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