Popul Vuh Unearthed in the Lost Mayan City of El Mirador

Popul Vuh at lost Mayan city of  El Mirador
Credit: Geoff Gallice 2010 via WikiMedia

The Popul Vuh: Hidden for Nearly 2000 Years

Is About to Rewrite the History of the Mayan Culture

Nestled deep within the Mirador Basin of Guatemala lies a nearly inaccessible complex of ancient Mayan ruins that has come to be known as the Lost City of El Mirador.  Like many of the archaeological sites in Meso-America, they were discovered long before any significant excavation or study began.  El Mirador was first discovered in 1926, however, no real study of the site was begun until 1978, and even now, it continues in a painstakingly meticulous fashion.  While this may seem unusual to some, it is fairly typical, considering the fact that almost 90% of the known Pre-Columbian archaeological sites in Mexico and Guatemala are are still not excavated.

What makes El Mirador unique, of all the previously uncovered Mayan sites, is the discovery of a stone carving of the Popul Vuh, or Mayan creation myth, that is at least two-thousand years old.  That means the carvings predate the arrival of the Spanish Conquistadores after 1492, and that means anthropologists now, for the first time,  have a way of independently verifying the accuracy of the Popul Vuh translations set to paper by Spanish priests in the mid-1500s.  The only existing copies of those codices somehow found their way from a remote village in Guatemala, where they were written by Father Ximenez around 1554, to the Newberry Libray in Chicago, where they were rediscovered in 1941. 

The tortured tale of the trail of the Popul Vuh Codices has been investigated and debated for over seventy years, but the real mystery of the Popul Vuh came to light when historians studying the manuscripts found eerie parallels between the Mayan creation myths and biblical stories and concepts.   The Popul Vuh, which literally means "The Book of the People,"  describes the creation of the first humans, a story of how they fall into disfavor with the gods, and even the virgin birth of a set of hero twins to a woman named Xquic.

Rather than ascribe those odd parallels to anything indigenous to the Mayan culture, scientists and students of the ancient Mayans simply explained them away as examples of "cross-cultural contamination" by the Catholic priests who translated and transcribed the creation myths to manuscript form.  Unfortunately, since the Spanish Conquistadors systematically destroyed almost all of the original materials from which those codices were translated, we've literally had nothing to compare the manuscripts to in order to gauge the accuracy of their translations.  Nothing, that is, until now.

The amazing discovery of a nearly complete stone carving of the Popul Vuh means that for the first time in history, scientists have an original Popul Vuh, authenticated to be almost two-thousand years old, to compare with the manuscripts found in 1941.  The question that has scholars holding their collective breath is, will the magnificent stone carving of the Popul Vuh discovered at El Mirador confirm the writings contained in those  manuscripts?   Or will the relic expose the Popul Vuh manuscripts as clumsy translations, contaminated by the Christian beliefs and traditions of the Spanish priests who wrote them? 

The answers just may settle, once and for all, the question of whether biblical traditions and precepts were known to the Mayans before the arrival of Columbus in the New World, but will likely raise many more questions regarding how and when those commonalities came into being.

Popul Vul Codex
Credit: Univ. of Ohio, Public Domain