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Atlantean sculpture that was found during construction of the path to the new section of Chichén Itzá. Source: INAH

Historic Atlantean Sculpture Unearthed at Chichén Itzá's New Zone


In an exciting revelation for the archaeological community in Mexico, an Atlantean sculpture has been discovered on the path that will lead to a new section of Chichén Itzá, known as Chichén Viejo. Such an item has never previously been found at the site.

The intricately carved sculpture, standing at a significant 90 centimeters (3ft), portrays a character with arms elevated, seemingly holding an object, and adorned with an intricate attire. The attire includes a headband, a pectoral plate crafted from four presumably jade bead rows, elongated earmuffs, and bracelets. Notably, the figure's facial features bear a striking resemblance to Huastec evocations, signifying a shared cultural connection.

Train Construction is a Line of Discovery

Diego Prieto Hernández, the general director of INAH, unveiled this discovery during President Andrés Manuel López Obrador's morning press conference. He elaborated on the advancements in archaeological projects connected with the ambitious Mayan Train's construction and the ongoing improvements in 27 archaeological sites around the mega-project.

The discovery of Chichen Viejo, a luxury residential complex that was lived in by the “controlling elites” of the sacred city was announced in February. These are the first residential buildings to have been found in the area and are situated about a kilometer (2/3 mile) from the Chichen Itza religious site.

Hernández emphasized the profound significance of the Atlantean sculpture, named for (although not directly connected to) the Greek god, Atlas, saying it hints at a cultural synergy between the Maya culture of Chichén Itzá and central and northwestern Mexico during the Terminal Classic and Early Postclassic periods (around AD 800-1200), reports the INAH press release.

The statue was found during construction of a path to a new area at Chichen Itza. (INAH)

The statue was found during construction of a path to a new area at Chichen Itza. (INAH)

An Atlantean in Mexico?

Atlantean sculptures, commonly referred to as "Atlantes," are stone statues of humanoid figures that often serve an architectural function as support columns or pillars. The term "Atlantean" derives from the mythological figure Atlas from Greek mythology, who was condemned to hold up the sky for eternity Similarly, these statues are typically depicted as bearing the weight of the structure they support, much like how Atlas was depicted bearing the weight of the world or sky. The discovered sculpture's dimensions suggest it might have been a supporting part of a ceremonial altar.

In Mesoamerica, especially during the Postclassic period (circa AD 900–1500), atlantes became a distinctive architectural feature in various regions. One of the most famous examples of Atlantean figures in Mesoamerica can be found in the ancient city of Tula, located in modern-day Hidalgo, Mexico. This was the capital of the Toltec Empire, and it features iconic columns in the form of warrior figures atop the Temple of Tlahuizcalpantecuhtli (Temple of the Morning Star). These figures, made of basalt, stand over 4 meters tall and once supported the roof of the temple.

The Temple of the Warriors in Chichén Itzá features columns with similar warrior figures, reminiscent of those in Tula, further highlighting the connections or interactions between the Maya and the Toltecs.

Archaeological Zone of Palenque, Chiapas. (Mauricio Marat/INAH)

Archaeological Zone of Palenque, Chiapas. (Mauricio Marat/INAH)

Meanwhile, Finds Putting Palenque on the Map

Chichén Itzá is not the only site bursting with exciting new finds in Mexico. Moving west, recent discoveries at the Palenque Archaeological site are reinforcing its iconic stature in Mexican archaeology. As part of the Palenque Archaeological Project, researchers recently discerned the age of the Temple of the Foliated Cross, tracing it back to 600 AD, and unearthed an architectural offering of two vessels, one containing neonatal skeletal remains symbolizing the blossoming of life.

A nose ornament excavated at Palenque, Chiapas, Mexico. (Carlos Varela Scherrer/INAH)

A nose ornament excavated at Palenque, Chiapas, Mexico. (Carlos Varela Scherrer/INAH)

Other finds just announced include a of a first-of-its-kind nose ornament, engraved to personify the Maya corn god. The extraordinary piece was part of a ritual deposit placed in the Late Classic period (600 and 850 AD), to commemorate the completion of a building, a structure on which House C of the Palace was built.

Director of the Palenque Archaeological Project (PAP), Arnoldo González Cruz described the finding reported by INAH:

“The earthen matrix was very dark, with a high amount of carbon, and interspersed with seeds, fish bones, turtles, small mammals, obsidian blades, large pieces of carbon and, among them, a bone nose ornament.”

Additionally, the Mayan Train project has shed light on an ancient lithic workshop dating between 600 and 850 AD, offering insights into the people of Palenque’s ancient lifestyle.

What’s more, only in March, Ancient Origins reported on the Maya burial chamber of an elite individual discovered at Palenque.

Continuing investigations to the northwest of the Palenque archaeological zone have exposed more than 70 burials, marking the location of the first cemetery in this ancient city. Alongside, chambers with multiple niches have been uncovered. Notably, among these discoveries was the secondary burial of a woman aged between 25 and 28.

The discoveries from both Chichén Itzá and Palenque are undergoing detailed examination, including registration, cleaning, drawing, photogrammetry, and specialized studies, with the intent to further unravel the secrets of the ancient civilizations.

The unveiling of Chichén Viejo is set for September 2, 2023, as announced by Mexico's Ministry of Culture through the National Institute of Anthropology and History (INAH).

Top image: Atlantean sculpture that was found during construction of the path to the new section of Chichén Itzá. Source: INAH

By Gary Manners

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Gary is an editor and content manager for Ancient Origins. He has a BA in Politics and Philosophy from the University of York and a Diploma in Marketing from CIM. He has worked in education, the educational sector, social work... Read More

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