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Oldest Royal Tomb of the Classic Maya Centipede Dynasty is Unearthed in Guatemala

Oldest Royal Tomb of the Classic Maya Centipede Dynasty is Unearthed in Guatemala


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The Ministry of Culture and Sports of Guatemala has declared the excavation of a royal tomb pertaining to a mature man at the Classic Maya city of Waka' as the oldest royal tomb to be discovered at the archaeological site so far.

Oldest Royal Tomb in Northern Guatemala’s History Unearthed

El Perú-Waka' is an ancient Maya city located in present-day northwestern Petén, Guatemala. Rediscovered by petroleum exploration workers in the mid-1960s, it is the largest known archaeological site in the Laguna del Tigre National Park in Guatemala's Maya Biosphere Reserve.

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The El Perú-Waka' Regional Archaeological Project initiated scientific investigations in 2003, and through excavation and survey, researchers established that Waka' was a key political and economic center well-integrated into Classic-period lowland Maya civilization . Their research has enabled them to reconstruct many aspects of Maya life and ritual activity in this ancient community.

Palace Acropolis at the Maya city of El Peru-Waka in northern Guatemala. ( Damien Marken )

According to Phys .org, the most recent finding at the site consists of a royal tomb, discovered by Guatemalan archaeologists of the U.S.-Guatemalan El Perú-Waka' Archaeological Project. The tomb has been dated by ceramic analysis to 300-350 AD, making it the earliest known royal tomb in the region.

"The Classic Maya revered their divine rulers and treated them as living souls after death," David Freidel, a professor at Washington University and leader of the research at this site in collaboration with Guatemalan and foreign archaeologists since 2003, told the SOURCE . He continued,

"This king's tomb helped to make the royal palace acropolis holy ground, a place of majesty, early in the history of the Wak - centipede - dynasty. It's like the ancient Saxon kings England buried in Old Minister, the original church underneath Winchester Cathedral."

King and captive from Tonina (the king is probably K'inich Kan Balam II). Sculpture from Temple 17 at Palenque, Chiapas, Mexico. Museo del Sitio. ( CC BY SA 2.0 ) The Maya revered their divine rulers after death.

The Monument that Narrates a Fascinating Story of a Mayan Cleopatra

The Maya city of El Perú-Waka’ has been very “generous” with its excavators during the past two decades, as the site has uncovered six royal tombs and sacrificial offering burials dating to the fifth, sixth and seventh centuries AD.

As reported in a previous Ancient Origins article , archaeologists excavating underneath a temple at the site discovered an intricately carved stone monument with hieroglyphic text dating back approximately 1,500 years, providing new insights into the ancient kingdom of Wak and its relations with the most powerful kingdoms in the lowland Maya world.

The monument, named El Perú Stela 44, was found in a tunnel underneath the main temple of the city which led to a royal tomb. Its text reveals that the monument was dedicated on January 25, AD 564, during a “Dark Age” period of the site’s history known as the Hiatus, when it was previously thought that no monuments were being carved at the site.

Maya Snake Queen Lady Ikoom as depicted on Stela 44. (Credit: Photo by Francico Castaneda; courtesy of Proyecto Arqueológico El Perú-Waka´y PACUNAM )

The hieroglyphic text also suggests that the monument was commissioned by Wak dynasty King Wa’oom Uch’ab Tzi’kin ( He Who Stands up the Offering of the Eagle ) to honor his father, King Chak Took Ich’aak ( Red Spark Claw ), who had died in 556 AD. More importantly, the text tells the story of a little-known princess whose progeny prevailed in a bloody, back-and-forth struggle between two of the civilization’s most powerful royal dynasties: Lady Ikoom.

Maya Snake Queen Lady Ikoom as represented on Stela 43. (Credit: Photo by Francico Castaneda; courtesy of Proyecto Arqueológico El Perú-Waka´y PACUNAM )

Lady Ikoom was a predecessor to one of the most famous queens of Classic Maya civilization, the seventh-century Maya Holy Snake Lord known as Lady K’abel who ruled El Perú-Waka’ for more than 20 years with her husband, King K’inich Bahlam II. She was the military governor of the Wak kingdom for her family, the imperial house of the Snake King, and she carried the title ‘Kaloomte,’ translated as ‘Supreme Warrior,’ higher in authority than her husband, the king.

El Peru Stelae 33 (left) and 34 (right), portraying K’inich Bahlam II and Lady K’abel. ( El Perú-Waka' Archaeological Project )

Royal Status of “Burial 80” Confirmed

Fast forward to 2017 when the recent findings were revealed at a Guatemalan symposium funded by the Ministry of Culture. Archaeologists refer to the newly discovered tomb as "Burial 80" and suggest that it dates back to the early years of the Wak royal dynasty.

Seen as one of the oldest known Maya dynasties, the Wak is believed to have been established in the second century based on estimations from a later historical text that was found at the site. However, the ruler’s identity remains unknown for now, “Although the ruler in Burial 80, identified as a mature man, was not accompanied by inscribed artifacts and is therefore anonymous, he is possibly King Te' Chan Ahk, a historically known Wak king who was ruling in the early fourth century AD,” Freidel said .

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Burial 80 during excavation shows a stone cup in the center surrounded by bones. ( Proyecto Arqueológico Waka’ and the Ministry of Culture and Sports of Guatemala )

Regardless, the archaeologists were able to conclude that the tomb is royal after they found a jade portrait mask portraying the ruler with the forehead hair tab of the Maize God (Maya kings were usually depicted as Maize God impersonators). Additionally, the newly found forehead tab has a distinctive "Greek Cross" symbol which means "Yellow" and "Precious" in ancient Mayan. This symbol is also associated with the Maize God.

Finally, the research team uncovered plenty of offerings in Burial 80, including twenty-two ceramic vessels, spondylus shells, jade ornaments, and a shell pendant carved as a crocodile.

Jade mask from Burial 80, painted red with cinnabar paint. ( Proyecto Arqueológico Waka’ and the Ministry of Culture and Sports of Guatemala )


Tomb of early classic Maya ruler found in Guatemala

The tomb of a Maya ruler excavated this summer at the Classic Maya city of Waka’ in northern Guatemala is the oldest royal tomb yet to be discovered at the site, the Ministry of Culture and Sports of Guatemala has announced.

“The Classic Maya revered their divine rulers and treated them as living souls after death,” said research co-director David Freidel, professor of anthropology in Arts & Sciences at Washington University in St. Louis.

“This king’s tomb helped to make the royal palace acropolis holy ground, a place of majesty, early in the history of the Wak — centipede — dynasty. It’s like the ancient Saxon kings England buried in Old Minster, the original church underneath Winchester Cathedral.”

The tomb, discovered by Guatemalan archaeologists of the U.S.-Guatemalan El Perú-Waka’ Archaeological Project (Proyecto Arqueológico Waka’, or PAW), has been provisionally dated by ceramic analysis to 300-350 A.D., making it the earliest known royal tomb in the northwestern Petén region of Guatemala.

Previous research at the site has revealed six royal tombs and sacrificial offering burials dating to the fifth, sixth and seventh centuries A.D.

About the Author

Gerry Everding is the senior news director for social science in the Office of Public Affairs. He currently covers news in anthropology, economics, education, linguistics, political science, psychology, religious studies, sociology and several other programs and centers, including the Weidenbaum Center and the Danforth Center on Religion and Politics.


Mayan king's tomb unearthed in Guatemala


The ruins are situated deep in the rainforest. Image Credit: CC BY-SA 3.0 Alejandro Linares Garcia

The discovery was made within the ruins of the city of El Peru-Waka, a major Mayan settlement that was rediscovered in the 1960s by petroleum workers in northern Guatemala.

Archaeologists unearthed the tomb itself while tunnelling beneath the city's palace acropolis.

Archaeologists have uncovered a jade mask in the tomb of a Mayan king revered as a god https://t.co/GyyclKgkoO pic.twitter.com/mD5MTDjNBW

— Newsweek (@Newsweek) September 15, 2017

"This king's tomb helped to make the royal palace acropolis holy ground, a place of majesty, early in the history of the Wak - centipede - dynasty. It's like the ancient Saxon kings England buried in Old Minster, the original church underneath Winchester Cathedral."

In addition to the king's remains, the team found ceramic vases, shells and a carved crocodile pendant as well as a jade mask that, along with the bones themselves, had been painted bright red.

The mask bears a unique 'Greek Cross' symbol meaning 'Yellow' and 'Precious' in ancient Mayan.

Similar stories based on this topic:


Tomb of Early Maya Classic Ruler Found in Guatemala

The tomb of a Maya ruler excavated this summer at the Classic Maya city of Waka’ in northern Guatemala is the oldest royal tomb yet to be discovered at the site, the Ministry of Culture and Sports of Guatemala has announced.

“The Classic Maya revered their divine rulers and treated them as living souls after death,” said research co-director David Freidel, professor of anthropology in Arts & Sciences at Washington University in St. Louis.

“This king’s tomb helped to make the royal palace acropolis holy ground, a place of majesty, early in the history of the Wak — centipede — dynasty. It’s like the ancient Saxon kings England buried in Old Minster, the original church underneath Winchester Cathedral.”

The tomb, discovered by Guatemalan archaeologists of the U.S.-Guatemalan El Perú-Waka’ Archaeological Project (Proyecto Arqueológico Waka’, or PAW), has been provisionally dated by ceramic analysis to 300-350 A.D., making it the earliest known royal tomb in the northwestern Petén region of Guatemala.

Previous research at the site has revealed six royal tombs and sacrificial offering burials dating to the fifth, sixth and seventh centuries A.D.

El Perú-Waka’ is about 40 miles west of the famous Maya site of Tikal near the San Pedro Martir River in Laguna del Tigre National Park. In the Classic period, this royal city commanded major trade routes running north to south and east to west.

Map of the Maya world courtesy of Keith Eppich

The findings, first disclosed at a Guatemalan symposium sponsored by the Ministry of Culture, suggest the new tomb, known as “Burial 80,” dates from the early years of the Wak (centipede in Mayan) royal dynasty.

One of the earliest known Maya dynasties, the Wak is thought to have been established in the second century A.D. based on calculations from a later historical text at the site.

Although the ruler in Burial 80, identified as a mature man, was not accompanied by inscribed artifacts and is therefore anonymous, he is possibly King Te’ Chan Ahk, a historically known Wak king who was ruling in the early fourth century A.D., the research team suggests.

Freidel has directed research at this site in collaboration with Guatemalan and foreign archaeologists since 2003.

Anthropologists Juan Carlos Pérez Calderon of San Carlos University in Guatemala and Damien Marken of Bloomsburg University in Pennsylvania are project co-directors. Olivia Navarro-Farr, assistant professor at the College of Wooster in Ohio, is co-principal investigator and long-term supervisor of the site.

Jade mask from Burial 80, painted red with cinnabar paint. (Image: Courtesy of Proyecto Arqueológico Waka’ and the Ministry of Culture and Sports of Guatemala)

Calderon and Guatemalan archaeologists Griselda Pérez Robles and Damaris Menéndez supervised tunnel excavations inside the Palace Acropolis that led to the new tomb.

Identification of the tomb as royal is based on the presence of a jade portrait mask depicting the ruler with the forehead hair tab of the Maize God. Maya kings were regularly portrayed as Maize God impersonators. This forehead tab has a unique “Greek Cross” symbol which means “Yellow” and “Precious” in ancient Mayan. This symbol is also associated with the Maize God.

Robles and Menéndez discovered the mask under the head of the ruler, and it may have been made to cover the face rather than as a chest pectoral. Archaeologists at Tikal in the 1960s discovered a similar greenstone mask in the earliest Maya royal tomb, dating to the first century A.D.

Additional offerings in Burial 80 included 22 ceramic vessels, Spondylus shells, jade ornaments and a shell pendant carved as a crocodile. The remains of the ruler and some ornaments like the portrait mask were painted bright red. Burial 80 was reverentially reentered after 600 A.D. at least once, and it is possible that the bones were painted during this reentry.

Burial 80 during excavation shows stone cup in the center surrounded by bones. (Image: Courtesy of Proyecto Arqueológico Waka’ and the Ministry of Culture and Sports of Guatemala)


1,000-Year-Old Tomb of Maya King Discovered in Guatemala

Archaeologists digging under a Maya palace in Guatemala say they have opened the tomb of a royal and found a jade mask and bones, both painted bright red.

The tomb was unearthed at the site of El Perú-Waka' in the rainforest of northern Guatemala. Though the dense city was filled with hundreds of buildings, including pyramids, palaces, plazas and houses, it was only rediscovered in the 1960s, when petroleum workers stumbled upon the ruins.

The site was occupied during the Classic Maya period (from around A.D. 200 to 800), and it had close ties to the nearby Maya rival capitals Tikal and Calakmul. A wealthy royal family once ruled Waka' and controlled what was a major trade route along the San Pedro River. [See Photos of Another Mayan Tomb]

A team of American and Guatemalan archaeologists have been excavating Waka' since 2003. They've found several burials of kings and queens (as well as some potential human sacrificial offerings).

In the latest finding from this past summer, the researchers tunneled beneath the city's palace acropolis and found what might be the oldest royal burial at the site. Based on the style of pottery found at the tomb, they think the burial dates to A.D. 300-350.

David Freidel, a professor of anthropology at Washington University in St. Louis and co-director of the excavations, explained in a news statement that the king's tomb would have helped to make the royal palace holy ground for the Wak (or "centipede") dynasty. "It'slike the ancient Saxon kings [of] England buried in Old Minister, the original church underneath Winchester Cathedral," Freidelsaid.

Freideland his colleagues believe the tomb likely belonged to a king because of the red-painted jade mask depicting the ruler as the Maize God, with his forehead inscribed with a symbol that meant"yellow" and "precious" in the ancient Mayanlanguage.

The grave also contained several ceramic vessels, shells and a carved crocodile pendant. The tomb had been reopened at least once sometime after A.D. 600, perhaps so that future generations of mourners could paint the ruler's bare bones red with cinnabar. (Painted bones have been found in Maya tombs before, such as the tomb of the Red Queen in Palenque, which was completely covered in cinnabar dust.)

There were no inscriptions in the tomb to reveal the ruler's name, but Freidel and his colleagues suspect he could be King Te' Chan Ahk, a known Wak dynasty king who ruled during the early fourth century.


The tomb of Mayan “God-King” discovered in Guatemala, his status determined by carved jade mask

On the 65th day of a painstaking excavation of tunnels running underneath a palace acropolis in northern Guatemala, archaeologists discovered the tomb of a Mayan ruler who is believed to have died in the 4th century AD. This is the latest find made at Waka (also known as El Peru), a dense concentration of almost 1,000 pyramids, palaces, and plazas that are yielding many details about the complex civilization of the Mayans.

The Wak Kingdom is sometimes called the Centipede Kingdom it was part of a vast Mayan empire stretching across Central America until it declined around the year 900 AD and the large cities were abandoned.

The excavation, its results announced in late September 2017, came across a funeral chamber, now believed to be the oldest one recorded so far at Waka. Up to now, six royal tombs and sacrificial offering burial sites from the 5th, 6th, and 7th centuries AD have been found. “We removed one of the rocks and could see a funeral chamber with bone remains,” archaeologist Griselda Pérez Robles told Artnet news. “Their offerings were covered with cinnabar, which indicated that it was a personage of royalty.”

Red jade mask found at the burial. Author: Proyecto Arqueológico Waka’ and the Ministry of Culture and Sports of Guatemala

The most striking object found in the tomb so far is a red-painted jade portrait mask with a forehead hair tab of the Maize God. Mayan kings were regularly portrayed as honoring, if not impersonating, the Maize God. The inscription on the mask’s forehead has a symbol that meant “yellow” and “precious” in the Mayan language. Also found were 22 ceramic vessels and a shell pendant that was carved in the shape of a crocodile.

“The Classic Maya revered their divine rulers and treated them as living souls after death,” said research co-director David Freidel, a professor of anthropology in Arts & Sciences at Washington University in St. Louis, Missouri. “This king’s tomb helped to make the royal palace acropolis holy ground, a place of majesty, early in the history of the dynasty. It’s like the ancient Saxon kings England buried in Old Minster, the original church underneath Winchester Cathedral.”

The immensity of Waka’s importance was unknown to researchers and archaeologists until the site was found by oil workers in the 1960s. It is set on a high escarpment, 120 meters above the flood plain of the San Juan River. While it is open to the public, Waka is hard to reach, requiring an “arduous” journey from Flores. Some work was done in the 1970s. But full excavation began in 2003, and is now under the sponsorship of the Waka Research Foundation, partnering with Guatemalan ministry and parks groups.

The royal tomb was discovered during excavations of the Pallace Acropolis in El Peru Waka Author Damien Marken

Earlier, the tomb of a late Mayan queen was found in the palace complex. “The queen wore a masterpiece jade royal jewel and a war helmet,” researchers say. Based on what they found in the tomb, they concluded the queen was a powerful one–“Lady Snake Lord”–who ruled over the Wak kingdom in the 7th century, also known as the Centipede kingdom.

Archaeologists at the site have also discovered an intricately carved stone monument with hieroglyphic text that could date back 1,500 years. The monument is believed to have been dedicated by a Wak king to his father, who died in 556 AD. This was during the Classic period of the Mayans, marked by ambitious building projects and artistic accomplishment.

The Burial Author: The Ministry of Culture and Sports of Guatemala

Human sacrifice was part of the culture of this Mayan period as well. Decapitation, removal of the heart (while still beating), and death by arrows are known.

“The site, given its history and influence in the region, is extraordinary,” Pérez Robles told artnews. “It would not be surprising if further findings of great relevance continue to be uncovered.”


Big chief

The scientists named the grave's occupant K'utz Chman, which in the Mayan language, Mam, means Grandfather Vulture.

"He was a big chief", said Mr Orrego. "He bridged the gap between the Olmec and Mayan cultures in central America."

The leader may have been the first to introduce elements which later became characteristic of the Maya culture, such as the building of pyramids and the carving of sculptures depicting the royal families, Reuters news agency cited historians as saying.

The Olmec empire began to fade at around 400 BC, while the Maya civilisation was starting to grow and develop, said Christa Schieber, another archaeologist working at the site.

The Mayas went on to rule much of Central America from 250 to 800 AD their empire extended from modern-day Honduras to central Mexico.


Major Discovery of Royal Tomb Has Strong Wooster Ties

WOOSTER, Ohio – A major discovery of a royal tomb, provisionally dated to 300-350 AD, at the ancient Maya city of Waka’ in northern Guatemala has direct ties to The College of Wooster. Locating the tomb, which is the oldest to be discovered at the site, according to members of the Proyecto Argueológico Waka’ and the Ministry of Culture and Sports of Guatemala, was credited to the U.S.-Guatemalan El Perú-Waka’ Archaeological Project, of which Wooster assistant professor of archaeology Olivia Navarro-Farr serves as a co-principal investigator (PI).

Wooster students Hannah Bauer ‘18, Sarah Van Oss ‘16, and Hannah Paredes ’18, pictured here at the National Museum of Archaeology and Ethnology in Guatemala, were performing research at the project’s lab facility when the 1,700-year-old royal tomb was discovered this summer.

A group of Guatemalan archaeologists – Griselda Pérez, Juan Carlos Pérez, and Damaris Menéndez – supervised tunnel excavations inside the Palace Acropolis and ultimately the discovery, officially termed as “Burial 80,” now the earliest known royal tomb in the northwestern Petén region of Guatemala. Previous research has revealed other royal tombs in the area, including Navarro-Farr’s and Pérez Robles’ discovery in 2012 of K’abel’s tomb, a seventh-century Maya queen.

Though not in the field during the time of the discovery, Navarro-Farr and her team of Wooster students were not surprised. Navarro-Farr’s research, granted through the Alphawood Foundation, provided substantial financial support for the investigations, which were integral to the research design laid out in her proposal. Navarro-Farr is examining royal women as agents of statecraft in the Maya area and her previous work at the site as well as current investigations at the palace directly inform on these ideas.

Navarro-Farr was following the research from Wooster thanks to consistent updates provided by Juan Carlos Pérez, the project’s Guatemalan co-director. “The systematic investigations carried out by the team, led by Griselda, were not only meticulously executed, but now provide the most comprehensive understanding of the ‘Early Classic Palace’ construction sequences. The tomb itself is also incredibly important for our understanding of the foundation of the Waka’ dynasty,” stated Navarro-Farr.

Sarah Van Oss ’16 had helped record data at one of the Palace Acropolis courtyard excavations in 2014 and therefore knew this sector of the site. She noted that “starting excavations in the palace … (the team) hypothesized (such) a discovery could result from investigations there at some future time … but I had to go back to school before excavations even reached a floor.”

A researcher at the site since 2003 and now serving as one of the project’s co-PIs, Navarro-Farr provides archaeology majors research opportunities that are rarely available at the undergraduate level. “What’s most exciting for me was coming to Wooster as a student who wanted to study archaeology and … being able to work on this project that is so huge and finding incredible things every year,” said Hannah Bauer ’19, who is currently studying abroad in Mérida, México.

When the discovery was made this summer, Bauer, Van Oss, and another Wooster student, Hannah Paredes ’19, were all working at the project’s laboratory facility in Guatemala City, analyzing the ceramics and other material from Navarro-Farr’s excavations. Many of the vessels unearthed are household items, such as serving dishes and drinking cups, all made out of earthen wares, which makes for “a fascinating comparison as to the difference in how royalty lived compared to the common people,” according to Bauer. Paredes was quite taken by sherds of pots “that helped fill in gaps of what kind of world (they) lived in … and showed us artistic styles and motifs that were popular at the time.”

Working on excavations alongside professionals, which has also included fieldwork in Belize for Bauer, Paredes, and Van Oss, and in the lab, provides Wooster students a strong foundation that sets them apart in their budding archaeology careers. Van Oss is currently applying to graduate programs and feels she’s ready to take on any challenge, saying “I feel like I can do a lot with what I learned from Wooster … my experiences aren’t like anyone else at my age level.” And, Bauer stated “It really is that experiential learning that Wooster is all about … I certainly wouldn’t have had these opportunities available had I gone to a different university.”


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Identification of the tomb as royal is based on the presence of a jade portrait mask depicting the ruler with the forehead hair tab of the Maize God

Dr Freidel has directed research at this site in collaboration with Guatemalan and foreign archaeologists since 2003.

Anthropologists Juan Carlos Pérez Calderon of San Carlos University in Guatemala and Damien Marken of Bloomsburg University in Pennsylvania are project co-directors.

Olivia Navarro-Farr, assistant professor at the College of Wooster in Ohio, is co-principal investigator and long-term supervisor of the site.

Dr Calderon and Guatemalan archaeologists Griselda Pérez Robles and Damaris Menéndez supervised tunnel excavations inside the Palace Acropolis that led to the new tomb.

Identification of the tomb as royal is based on the presence of a jade portrait mask depicting the ruler with the forehead hair tab of the Maize God.

Maya kings were regularly portrayed as Maize God impersonators.

Aritist's impression of the Palace Acropolis at the Maya city of El Peru-Waka' in northern Guatemala

This forehead tab has a unique Greek Cross symbol which means 'yellow' and 'precious' in ancient Mayan.

This symbol is also associated with the Maize God.

Drs Robles and Menéndez discovered the mask under the head of the ruler, and it may have been made to cover the face rather than as a chest pectoral.

Archaeologists at Tikal in the 1960s discovered a similar greenstone mask in the earliest Maya royal tomb, dating to the first century AD

Additional offerings in Burial 80 included 22 ceramic vessels, Spondylus shells, jade ornaments and a shell pendant carved as a crocodile.

The remains of the ruler and some ornaments like the portrait mask were painted bright red.

Burial 80 was reverentially reentered after 600 AD at least once, and it is possible that the bones were painted during this reentry.

Show here is a map of the ancient Mayan world, with El Peru-Waka' at its centre


1,000-Year-Old Tomb of Maya King Discovered in Guatemala

Archaeologists digging under a Maya palace in Guatemala say they have opened the tomb of a royal and found a jade mask and bones, both painted bright red.

The tomb was unearthed at the site of El Perú-Waka' in the rainforest of northern Guatemala. Though the dense city was filled with hundreds of buildings, including pyramids, palaces, plazas and houses, it was only rediscovered in the 1960s, when petroleum workers stumbled upon the ruins.

The site was occupied during the Classic Maya period (from around A.D. 200 to 800), and it had close ties to the nearby Maya rival capitals Tikal and Calakmul. A wealthy royal family once ruled Waka' and controlled what was a major trade route along the San Pedro River. [See Photos of Another Mayan Tomb]

A team of American and Guatemalan archaeologists have been excavating Waka' since 2003. They've found several burials of kings and queens (as well as some potential human sacrificial offerings).

In the latest finding from this past summer, the researchers tunneled beneath the city's palace acropolis and found what might be the oldest royal burial at the site. Based on the style of pottery found at the tomb, they think the burial dates to A.D. 300-350.

David Freidel, a professor of anthropology at Washington University in St. Louis and co-director of the excavations, explained in a news statement that the king's tomb would have helped to make the royal palace holy ground for the Wak (or "centipede") dynasty. "It'slike the ancient Saxon kings [of] England buried in Old Minister, the original church underneath Winchester Cathedral," Freidelsaid.

Freideland his colleagues believe the tomb likely belonged to a king because of the red-painted jade mask depicting the ruler as the Maize God, with his forehead inscribed with a symbol that meant"yellow" and "precious" in the ancient Mayanlanguage.

The grave also contained several ceramic vessels, shells and a carved crocodile pendant. The tomb had been reopened at least once sometime after A.D. 600, perhaps so that future generations of mourners could paint the ruler's bare bones red with cinnabar. (Painted bones have been found in Maya tombs before, such as the tomb of the Red Queen in Palenque, which was completely covered in cinnabar dust.)

There were no inscriptions in the tomb to reveal the ruler's name, but Freidel and his colleagues suspect he could be King Te' Chan Ahk, a known Wak dynasty king who ruled during the early fourth century.


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