Mayan ruins said center of mysterious civilization


Fri Sep 8, 2006 11:43pm ET24

TEGUCIGALPA, Honduras (Reuters) - Experts are examining the ruins of a pre-Columbian culture in an area of Honduras where there had been no previous evidence of major indigenous civilization.

The site, discovered earlier this year, consists of 14 mounds that form part of what are believed to be ceremonial grounds, the Honduran Institute of Anthropology said.

"They are part of a very important site, a governing center of a pre-Columbian civilization," Oscar Neils, the institute's head of research, told Reuters. "We had no idea that there was a pre-Columbian culture in this area."

The findings so far include an impressive carved stone monument, called a stela, as well as necklaces and grinding stones.

"The stela is a sculpture of various human and animal forms and is truly amazing in how well conserved it is," Neils said.

Three feet (1 meter) high and more than 4-1/2 feet (1-1/2 meters) wide, the stela is being displayed in the park of the nearby town of Moroceli, about 30 miles east of the capital of Tegucigalpa.

Neils said the site has been damaged by tractors involved in sugar cane growing, prompting Honduras' Culture Ministry to move to protect it.

Honduras is home to some 14,000 archeological sites, including world-famous Copan, which flourished between the fifth and ninth centuries and was one of the first Mayan sites to be excavated.

This site is completely distinct, Neils said.

"Its culture is an enigma," added the Mexican archeologist.