Archaeologists working at an ancient Maya site in Belize have uncovered a body, along with obsidian knives and containers and other artifacts, in what is believed to be one of the largest royal tombs ever discovered in the small Central American country. Among the various pieces of treasure were also panels of hieroglyphs, thought to be part of a conquest history, and not part of the original structure. And besides what was found inside the Maya burial chamber that likely once belonged to a ruler of the Snake Dynasty, experts have found that the tomb itself is an architectural rarity.
The Guardian reported August 6 that the Maya ruins at Xunantunich in Belize have provided for “a great field season” for archaeologists and their colleagues. Discoveries were made when the tomb was uncovered after researchers excavated a central stairway in the ruins. The find extends from 6 feet to 26 feet below ground, having been relieved of some 1,300 years of accumulated earth and debris.
The entrance to what archaeologists believe is a royal tomb is braced by two offering caches, both filled with nine obsidian and 28 chert artifacts made of flint and chert (a dark silica rock) carvings of animals, leaves, and other symbolic talismans. Inside the burial chamber, researchers found even more artifacts, including jaguar and deer bones, six jade beads (most likely part of a necklace), 13 obsidian blades, and 36 ceramic vessels, or containers. They also found hieroglyphic panels.
Archaeologist Jaime Awe, who led the research with a team from Northern Arizona University (his school) and the Belize Institute of Archaeology, said of the discovery, “It certainly has been a great field season for us.”
The hieroglyphs, which Awe says could possibly be “even more important than the tomb” due to their ability to possibly shed light on the history and culture of the Maya. The panels relate a time when the Snake Dynasty appeared to have been in the midst of a probable civil war, where two brothers contended for the throne sometime around 630 to 640 ACE.
They seem to have been transported to the edifice in Xunantunich from the ancient city of Caracol, which lies about 26 miles to the south. It is believed that the hieroglyph panels were part of a staircase that depicted that city’s ruler, a member of the Snake Dynasty named Lord Kan II, defeating and ruling the city of Naranjo. The newly uncovered tomb is thought to be that of a later ruler of Naranjo who apparently got revenge on Caracol and had the panels removed and transferred. The hieroglyphs, experts say, are out of context (possibly purposefully) and are believed to be part of a set of panels that are scattered over at least four ancient Maya sites.
The Maya tomb may be the resting place of that ruler. Awe notes that a preliminary analysis by osteologists revealed the male body found there was athletic and “quite muscular” at the time of his death. More detailed analysis, Awe says, should help identify the body and offer insights as to his health and the cause of death.
Scientists believe the building, which is a rarity among Mayan architecture, was built at the same time as the tomb. Other Maya rulers and Snake Dynasty rulers, both male and female, have been discovered before, but their respective burial chambers have tended to have been constructed after the buildings in which they have been discovered were built.
The Snake Dynasty, which gets its name from the snake-headed figure that adorns its architecture, was a family that ruled the Maya civilization during its Classic Period (250 to 900 ACE), was characterized by a series of rulers and military conquests of the Kan family, which extended for hundreds of miles across Central America. For example, as National Geographic noted in 2012, a tomb dating from around 692 ACE was discovered belonging to the “Lady Snake Lord,” the famed military leader Lady K’abel, in distant Guatemala. She ruled the region at her behest of her family, the Kan regime, otherwise referred to as the Snake Dynasty.
The archaeological discovery in Belize comes on the heels of another Maya discovery announced last month. As Inquisitr reported, researchers at Palenque in Mexico found what they believe to be the passages of an ancient water tunnel complex within the ancient pyramid known as the Temple of Inscriptions. The complex of water tunnels was purposely constructed atop a natural spring sometime between 683-702 AD and was used to channel water from beneath the temple up to the front of the edifice, opening a pathway for the spirit of the Maya ruler Pakal to make his way to the underworld.
[Image via Shutterstock]