A high-relief wall sculpture showing a female ruler subduing a captive male warrior was just uncovered, authorities in Mexico said Monday.
The statuary found at the Mayan ruin site of Ek’Balam, on the Yucatan peninsula, shows a figure wearing a skirt with crossed bones on it.
The figure is shown holding the hair of a smaller person, who has his arms tied behind his back.
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“You can see a female ruler, wearing a skirt with crossed bones on it, grasping the hair of a man,” said Diego Prieto, the director of Mexico’s National Institute of Anthropology and History.
Prieto called it “an important discovery.”
Only the lower half of the dominant figure is preserved, and experts differed on whether it really depicts a ruler and whether she is female.
Mexico’s National Institute of Anthropology and History announced the find Monday, but President Andrés Manuel López Obrador posted a photo of it Sunday along a nighttime snapshot of what he said appeared to be an “Aluxe” — a mythical, Mayan forest spirit similar to an elf.
“It’s an interesting find. We already know of several queens who were powerful military figures, from places further south,” said David Stuart, a professor of Mesoamerican art and writing at the University of Texas at Austin.
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But Stuart said that the sculpture “probably shows a goddess, based on the bony skirt she wears. It may be an underworld figure, related to themes of rebirth and sacrifice.”
“There were important female rulers, something that is long known,” wrote Susan Gillespie, an anthropology professor at the University of Florida.
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She noted that “it’s hard to tell that the person on the left wearing a skirt with crossed-bones motif is a ruler per se, and sometimes male rulers are depicted wearing female garb.”
Located between Cancun and Chichen Itza, Ek Balam is a Mayan cultural and religious center that probably flourished between 600 and 850 A.D.