All lands have their secrets, some more ancient than others, and at times all that's left are stories, however in the jungles of Guatemala, there are vestiges of an ancient civilization that pose a mystery, especially one which is apart from all the others. It was discovered in the 1930s.
The earliest settlements in Guatemala date back to 18,000 B.C. The people living in the area, settled into an agrarian existence, cultivating maize along the Pacific coast that gradually moved inland.
Guatemala once was the epicenter of the Mayan Empire.
The Olmec people drifted down from southwest Mexico, and pioneered the construction of monumental statues, temples and pyramids.
During the last century several large stone heads were discovered hidden in the Guatemalan jungles. There is a collection of 17, basalt heads that depict males faces with flat noses, slightly crossed eyes and puffed cheeks. This appearance coincides with the descendants of the Olmecs. It's believed the heads were quarried from the Sierra de los Tuxlas Mountains of Veracruz and were moved a very long distance, something that would only have been done for an individual of high standing within the Olmec society. Most of these heads were buried around 900 B.C.
Like many unexpected historical discoveries, they occur to those who are intent on completing a mundane task. So is the story of a farmer working on a sugarcane producing hacienda close to Tres Zapotes (Hueyapan), who tripped on a buried object. He removed some of the dirt and saw it was the top of a large head.
Enter José María Melgar y Serrano who lived in Mexico during the mid-1800s. He died in 1886. He's been described by different sources as a traveler, journalist, explorer, adventurer, mercenary, antiques finder and ultimately an amateur archeologist.
The farmer's discovery came to the attention of Melgar who decided to visit the place in 1862, and he finished unearthing it. He even wrote an article about it in 1869.
It wasn't until the 1930s, that archaeologist Matthew Stirling undertook an excavation at Tres Zapotes which is considered the third Olmec capital located in the Gulf Lowlands of Mexico. Stirling was chief of the Smithsonian's Bureau of American Ethnology.
In 1943, Olmec heads were unearthed in an area known as La Venta archeological dig in Tabasco, Mexico.
In 1969, the National Geographic Society announced the discovery of one of the heads. The expedition was headed by Dr. Lee A. Parson of the Peabody Museum of Archaeology at Harvard University.
The head was found near four other discovered in the past year. It was 5 feet in height and described as having "a huge bald head with sloping brow, frowning lips and sagging jowls."
There is one head, supposedly discovered in Guatemala from the 1930s to the 1950s that is quite different from the rest.
Its origins, as well as the head itself have proven to be elusive.
In 1987, Dr. Oscar Rafael Padilla Lara, a lawyer, philosopher and vice-president and founder of Origenes Guatemala received a picture from the Biener family who owned the property where the statue was discovered. It was about 6 miles from the small village of La Democracia in southern Guatemala.
The Guatemalan Civil War raged from 1960 to 1996 between the government of Guatemala and various leftist rebel groups.
Dr. Padilla relayed to David Childress, author and explorer, that when he reached the place where the head had been discovered, he found it had been destroyed by anti-government rebels which disfigured it by using it as target practice. It measured over 13 feet tall with the head resting on a neck. Dr. Padilla could not return to the location due to skirmishes being fought in the area.
Childress suggested that Padilla’s colossal head is evidence that European faces were known to pre-Hispanic cultures of South America.
The story of the unusual head from Guatemala faded once more into obscurity until 2011, when Raul Julia-Levy (son of actor Raul Julia) produced a documentary titled Revelations of the Mayan 2012 and Beyond which used the picture as part of the film.
Archaeologist Hector E. Mejia, a faculty member at Universidad de San Carlos in Guatemala dated the head to between 3,500 and 5,000 B.C. He described it thus:
It is a bust which at first glance can be seen to have an elongated cranium and fine characteristics which are not consistent with pre-Hispanic races of America. I certify that this monument presents no characteristics of Maya, Nahuatl, Olmec or any other pre-Hispanic civilization. It was created by an extraordinary and superior civilization with awesome knowledge of which there is no record of existence on this planet. The creative style is not consistent with the civilizations that inhabited the southern coast of Guatemala prior to the arrival of the Spaniards … It is indisputably pre-Olmec and pre-Maya …
According to Julia-Levy the photo was actually taken in the late 1930s, and was published in a magazine and withdrawn from circulation by "the government of England."
Contrary to the story from Dr. Padilla, he said the colossal head was removed to the United States and hidden.
Mejia compared it to the Great Sphinx, the Moais on Easter Island and Pascual Abaj in Guatemala. He believed this bust in particular was "created by an extraordinary and superior civilization that settled in the south of Guatemala" and instructed the people of the area.
In 2013, Julia-Levy lost a dispute arbitrated by the IFTA which awarded Elisabeth Thieriot "the right, title and interest in all footage" and ruled that Levy "is not to possess or exploit" the footage in any way.
In total, 17 Colossal heads carved from basalt have been found throughout the jungles of central Guatemala, all depicting faces that are similar, with the exception of the one pictured on the Biener lands.
However it does bare some familiarity to busts found on Easter Island.
There has always been controversy in the theory about pre-colonial contact between Polynesian peoples such as the Rapa Nui who inhabited Easter Island, and the Americas.
In 2014, a paper was published titled Genome-wide ancestry patterns in Rapanui suggest pre-European admixture with Native Americans.
The results found mostly Polynesian ancestry from 27 Rapanui individuals, genome-wide patterns consistent with Native American and European admixture were detected which dated to 1280-1945 A.D. and European admixture dating to 1850-1895 A.D. These results can only be explained by one or more pre-European trans-Pacific contact.
These findings indicate that the Rapa Nui, after settling on Easter Island, went on to make landfall on the coast of Peru or Chile which is a trip of over 2,000 miles. They also returned to Easter Island and brought South American natives with them.
Where indeed is this bust? Was it destroyed by rebels, secreted away somewhere in the United States, or was the photograph a forgery to begin with?
Perhaps one day we'll have an answer, but undoubtedly there are still many mysteries to be unearthed in the jungles, which perhaps have not been seen for hundreds or perhaps thousands of years. Even now, researchers don’t quite understand how the Olmecs transported the material from quarries, or what the sculptures’ precise purpose was.
Stranger Than Fiction Stories by M.P. Pellicer