Monday 5 February 2024

Jade mask among items found in Mayan tomb in Guatemala.

A mosaic jade mask is among the items discovered in a 1700-year-old Mayan tomb in Guatemala, according to a press release issued by Tulane University on 29 January 2024. The site, at Chochkitam, close to the borders with Mexico and Belize, was investigated by a team led by archaeologist Fran Blom of the Middle American Research Institute at Tulane University in 1924, but nothing was discovered at that time. In 2022 a series of tunnels was detected in a lidar (Light Detection and Ranging, a system of scanning land surface and near-surface structures from an aircraft using lasers) survey of the area, leading to an investigation on the ground led by Francisco Estrada-Belli of Tulane University. 

A mosaic jade mask discovered inside an ancient Maya tomb dating back 1700 years in Chochkitam, Guatemala, near the borders of what are now Mexico and Belize, on 1 July 2022. Francisco Estrada-Belli/Tulane University.

The tunnels discovered by the lidar survey turned out not to be connected to the tomb, or any other structure, and are thought to have been dug by would-be-looters with some idea that there was a tomb in the area, who eventually gave up before finding it. The actual tomb was located about 2 m from the end of the looters tunnel. This was found to be remarkably intact, although part of the stone ceiling had collapsed, and some natural decay had set in.

The excavation site of an ancient Maya tomb discovered in Chochkitam, Guatemala, near the  borders of what are now Mexico and Belize, on 1 July 2022. The tomb and relics inside date back 1700 years. Francisco Estrada-Belli/Tulane University.

The tomb contains a series of Human femur bones inscribed in a Mayan hieroglyphic script, which identify the occupant of the tomb as a previously unknown Mayan king, listing his father and grandfather, which makes it possible to link him to the Maya states of Tikal in Guatemala and Teotihuacan, to the northeast of Mexico City . The tomb is thought to have been sealed in about 350 AD, and also contains a series of shells of the Mollusc Spondylus, a type of Spiny Oyster, which were used as currency by the Mayans.

Incised femur bone with drawing of the inscription upon it.  Alexandre Tokovinine/Holmul Archaeological Project/Tulane University.

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