Farmers digging in a citrus grove in Mexico have found a striking, 180cm-tall statue of a female figure who may represent an elite woman rather than a goddess, or some mixture of the two, experts say.
The National Institute of Anthropology and History says it is the first such statue found in a region near the Gulf coast known as the Huasteca.
The carved woman has an elaborate hairpiece and marks of status, and may date to around 1450 to 1521, the institute said.
While the site where it was found is nearer to the pre-Hispanic ruin site of El Tajin, the statue shows some influences of the Aztecs.
Farmers digging in the grove found it on New Year's Day and quickly reported it to authorities.
The area where it was found was not previously known to be an archaeological site, and the stone statue may have been moved from some unknown original site.
Just who the open-mouthed, wide-eyed statue depicts remains something of a mystery.
Institute archaeologist Maria Eugenia Maldonado Vite wrote that "this could be a ruler, based on her posture and attire, more than a goddess".
Maldonado added it could be "a late fusion between the Teem goddesses and women of high political or social status in the Huasteca".
Those goddesses were part of a fertility cult.
University of Florida anthropology professor Susan Gillespie said there were quite a few pre-Hispanic depictions of elite women and female rulers elsewhere.
"Colonial-era Aztec documents mentioned women 'rulers' or at least holders of the crown to pass on to their successors ... so that is not a surprise," Gillespie said.
"Women were highly valued in the pre-Hispanic era, drastically losing their status only after the conquest."
Australian Associated Press