Maya warrior head sculpture found at Chichén Itzá

Archaeologists have discovered a well-preserved sculpture of a warrior head at the iconic Maya site of Chichén Itzá in Yucatán, Mexico. The head, which would have originally been part of a larger sculpture, is in excellent condition, preserved for centuries in construction fill in a basement under the Casa Colorada group of Chichén Itzá.

The warrior wears a feathered serpent helmet with wide-open jaws around his forehead and chin. The dimensions of the piece — 13 inches high, 11 inches wide and 8.7 inches deep — is typical of the sculptural types found in the first era of Chichén Itzá’s construction, the Late Classic period between 600 and 800 A.D.

Speaking at President López Obrador’s morning press conference, the head of the National Institute of Anthropology and History (INAH), Diego Prieto Hernández, described the head as a “very interesting find.”

“It was customary to represent warriors with a headdress, with a kind of helmet,” he said. “In this case it is a snake figure from which the face of this character emerges, and a feathered headdress, so it is probably alluding to Kukulcán, the feathered serpent of the Maya.”

The warrior was found last Tuesday in a rescue archaeology operation on the route of the future Maya Train, a 1000-mile train that will cross the Yucatán peninsula from Palenque to Cancun. It is controversial for many reasons. Its route traverses the jungle, damaging the environment and wildlife, and the plan was opposed by the indigenous people who actually own the land but were not consulted in any meaningful way. Train construction moved forward anyway, beginning in 2020, and is expected to be completed by the end of this year.

To mitigate the potential for destruction of archaeological sites that are either unknown or underexplored, rescue archaeology excavations have been performed along the train line. A related project has developed the infrastructure of the 27 archaeological zones near the Maya Train, building new museums and visitor centers or updating and expanding existing ones, as a draw to tourists taking the train. The Maya Train rescue excavations have recovered enormous amounts of material and remains, including 57,146 architectural elements, 1,398,083 ceramic fragments and 660 burials.

Chichén Itzá, arguably the most famous Maya site in the world, one of UNESCO’s New 7 Wonders of the World, visited by more than 2,500,000 people a year, is getting a new museum. Shockingly enough, it has never had one before.