Evening is falling on the ancient Maya kingdom of El Zotz deep in the dense undergrowth of the Guatemalan jungle. A dark tide of bats flows out of a large cave in the nearby mountainside as the last rays of the setting sun illuminate a dramatic series of giant blood-red masks decorating an ancient temple set atop the Diablo Pyramid. Beneath the 40-foot high pyramid lies a burial tomb containing the remains of a Maya king, found with a sacrificial blade lying where his right hand would have been.
Pure Indiana Jones, the scene has attracted widespread international attention as armchair archaeologists the world over follow the latest discoveries at the recently excavated Temple of the Night Sun at El Zotz, headed by Thomas Garrison of the USC Dornsife Department of Anthropology.
The Maya, an advanced Mesoamerican civilization, lived in what is now Guatemala, southern Mexico and Belize, in a series of city-states of varying size and power. While El Zotz was one of the smaller kingdoms, it appears to have more than made up for its size with a keen sense of its own identity and creativity.