As the Royal BC Museum prepares for another exhibition that will take visitors back in time, artifacts are slowly being unveiled.
On Thursday, the museum removed a rare artifact from its crate for the upcoming Maya: The Great Jaguar Rises exhibition.
The artifact — La Corona Altar 5 — is from the year 544 CE and was discovered in the jungle in the northern part of Guatemala, 700 kilometres away from cities.
Hieroglyphic text on the altar tells the story of a king, Chak Tok Ich’aak, who led the fight against the Tikal Dynasty, allowing the Kaanul Dynasty to become the new leaders.
Later on, Chak Tok Ick’aak goes on to become a very well-known, powerful leader.
According to the director of the National Museum of Guatemala, Daniel Eduardo Aquino Lara, the altar helps piece together and confirm significant research around the La Corona archaeological site.
“We have something relevant to construct the nation’s history of Guatemala,” Lara said. “It confirmed how complex Mayan society was in the past.”
Lara said the hieroglyphics on the altar also show how different communities and aspects of Mayan society came together for a larger goal — not unlike today, where smaller and larger powers form alliances.
“In the beginning of the 20th century many archaeologists thought the ancient Maya just prayed and celebrated ceremonies,” Lara said. “Now we know they were a very complex society, they had a very stratified society as well and had a lot of changes during the time.”
The altar depicts an image of Chak Tok Ich’aak carrying a scepter with a double-headed snake and two deities who protect the local La Corona dynasty.
A team of archaeologists from Guatemala and the USA uncovered the altar when researching and investigating a pyramid structure that was buried under earth and trees in 2017 and 2018.
The altar was found two years ago inside the pyramid structure and has now travelled to Victoria for Canadians and tourists to see.
“In this case, the monuments don’t change history but give us more elements to understand details about relationships, how the politics were and what was going on in the Late Classic period 13 to 15 centuries ago,” Lara said. “For Guatemala, it’s an opportunity to share the relevant history and how centuries of research and preserving our cultural heritage can be shared with people.”
Maya: The Great Jaguar Rises runs at the Royal BC Museum from May 17 to Dec. 31. It spotlights the mystery, legacy and resilience of one of the world’s great civilizations, the Maya of Central America.
The exhibition boasts the world’s largest and most impressive display of Maya objects including jade, ceramic, gold, stone and textile artifacts never before seen outside of Guatemala.