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A new sun rises over the steaming Guatemalan jungle.

 

In the low, green forest, a mighty king stands tall, placidly surveying his realm. He faces north, and the dazzling morning sun throws his face into dramatic relief. He is dressed as befits a mighty king, with an ornate headdress, high boots and elaborate robes. He stands in the same place he stood yesterday, and a thousand yesterdays before that, for a thousand years of yesterdays under the oppressive Guatemalan sun.

 

Around him, his mighty city is in ruins, the grand temples swallowed by the lush jungle generations ago, back when his vigil was still new. The buildings turned to dust as he watched, mute and powerless to stop it. His people are gone, victims of an unknown disaster that took them away from him, away from his severe, stony gaze. Enveloped by thick jungle and shrouded in silence, he patiently waits for the day when people rather than trees are his subjects, and his glorious empire rises again.

 

The Maya empire wasn’t really an empire at all, but a collection of city-states that were unified by language and commerce. The Maya were great builders, warriors and astronomers, and their culture peaked around 600-800 A.D. before mysteriously disappearing. Historians have a number of theories for their decline, including rampant warfare among the city-states, natural disasters and disease. Whatever the reason, by the time the Spanish arrived in the sixteenth century, the descendants of the Maya were scattered into smaller pockets of civilization spread out over southern Mexico, Belize, Guatemala and northern Honduras.

 

Quiriguá was a medium-sized Maya city: during its peak (around 500 to 750 A.D.) it may have been home to as many as 50,000 inhabitants. Although it is not a large site, it is noteworthy because of the finely carved stone of the buildings and stelae, or tall standing stones. Among these intricately carved stone structures, one of the most impressive is Stela E. The largest of the Mayan stelae, Stela E stands thirty-five feet (11 meters) tall and weighs an estimated 130,000 pounds (almost 60,000 kilograms). Depicted on this massive stone is Cauac Sky, the greatest ruler of the city of Quiriguá during the Maya classic period. Archeologists estimate the stela was finished around 771 A.D. The stone’s massive size and foreboding appearance gives the impression that, while the city of Quiriguá disappeared long ago, Cauac Sky continues to rule the jungle. This intriguing remnant from the past is one of twenty or so at the Quiriguá archaeological site.

 

Besides Stela E and the other magnificent carved standing stones, the area is one of the few places featuring “full-figured glyphs” which is a certain intricate form of Mayan writing into stone. Many of the buildings and temples of the site are still unexcavated. The site also features “zoomorphs”, which are great stones carved into animal shapes.

 

The impassive king still stands where he has always stood, not minding the ruin around him. He was built to last out of sixty tons of ageless rock, six times taller than he stood in life. He has persevered even as everything around him was reclaimed by the eternal jungle, and to look at his emotionless face, he knows he’ll stand tall for generations more, stoically watching the world evolve around him.



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