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An abandoned Mayan city, buried for centuries in a Guatemalan rainforest, has yielded the largest architectural sculpture yet discovered from the ancient civilization.

Richard Hansen, director of the project for the Institute of Geophysics and Planetary Physics at the University of California-Los Angeles (UCLA), said the enormous stucco sculptures, 34 feet wide by 16 feet high, were discovered on the facades of pyramids ranging in size from 60 to 150 feet high. The sculptures date from an early period of Mayan civilization, about 300 B.C., he said - 200 years earlier than most known similar examples.

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The largest sculpture was found at Nakbe in northern Guatemala, about 200 miles from Guatemala City, Mr. Hansen said. It is the image of a large bird known as the Principal Bird Deity.

The deity is predominant in other Mayan findings but "this is the earliest we have seen him in this scale," Hansen said. "This gives us an opportunity to look at a civilization that is poorly known and understood."

This recent discovery at Nakbe builds on other UCLA discoveries. In 1989, the age of the site was identified and was determined to be the earliest major center of Maya civilization. Previous expeditions also revealed tombs and other structures, including massive stone temples and carved sculptured monuments.

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