Washington: Archaeologists have discovered a tomb of an ancient Mayan king in Guatemala, filled with materials that have been preserved for approximately 1,600 years.
Brown University’s Stephen Houston and his colleagues uncovered the tomb, which dates from about 350 to 400 A.D. The tomb is packed with of carvings, ceramics, textiles, and the bones of six children, who may have been sacrificed at the time of the king’s death.
It lies beneath the El Diablo pyramid in the city of El Zotz.
"When we sunk a pit into the small chamber of the temple, we hit almost immediately a series of ''caches'' - blood-red bowls containing human fingers and teeth, all wrapped in some kind of organic substance that left an impression in the plaster. We then dug through layer after layer of flat stones, alternating with mud, which probably is what kept the tomb so intact and airtight," said Stephen Houston.
They lowered a bare light bulb into the hole, and suddenly Houston saw "an explosion of colour in all directions - reds, greens, yellows."
It was a royal tomb filled with organics Houston says he’d never seen before: pieces of wood, textiles, thin layers of painted stucco, cord.
"When we opened the tomb, I poked my head in and there was still, to my astonishment, a smell of purification and a chill that went to my bones," Houston said. "The chamber had been so well sealed, for over 1600 years that no air and little water had entered," he added.
The group believes the tomb is likely from a king they only know about from other hieroglyphic texts - one of Houston’s specialties in Maya archaeology.
"These items are artistic riches, extraordinarily preserved from a key time in Maya history. From the tomb’s position, time, richness, and repeated constructions atop the tomb, we believe this is very likely the founder of a dynasty," said Houston.
The stone expert on site, Zachary Hruby, suspects the blade was used for cutting and grinding through bone or some other hard material. Its surface seems to be covered with red organic residue. Though the substance still needs to be tested, "it doesn’t take too much imagination to think that this is blood," Houston said.
"We still have a great deal of work to do," Houston said. "Remember, we’ve only been out of the field for a few weeks and we’re still catching our breath after a very difficult, technical excavation. Royal tombs are hugely dense with information and require years of study to understand. No other deposits come close."
First Published: Tuesday, January 04, 2011, 10:49