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Largest Mayan tomb discovered in Belize may hold remains of local ruler

The exceptionally well-preserved tomb of a Mayan ruler was discovered in Belize. Found at the heart of the country's famous Xunantunich archaeological site, the burial chamber is the largest and most elaborate so far found in the small the Central American nation.

Largest Mayan tomb discovered in Belize may hold remains of local ruler
A royal tomb has been found at the Maya site of Xunantunich, Belize 
[Credit: Jose Awe]
The Mayan civilisation emerged around 2,600 BC in the Yucatan Peninsula, in the South of Mexico and part of Belize and Guatemala. The civilisation was particularly advanced, with the Mayans excelling at agriculture, pottery and architecture – leaving behind impressive temples and religious structures as well as symbolic artwork.

The Mayans were at the height of their power in the sixth century AD. However, mystery remains about why this great civilisation came to an end. Most of the Mayan stone cities were abandoned by 900 AD and so far archaeologists have been unable to explain the disappearance of such a rich and powerful culture.

In depth archaeological work started decades ago in Belize, but it is only recently that major discoveries have led archaeologists to really look at the country as the centre of Mayan civilisation.

Largest Mayan tomb discovered in Belize may hold remains of local ruler
The tomb is one of the largest ever found in Belize 
[Credit: Jose Awe]
The Belize Valley Archaeological Reconnaissance Project, directed by archaeologist Jaime Awe, from the University of Northern Arizona, aims to study the remains of Mayan culture in the country. It includes excavation works at Xunantunich – looking at its palaces and temples to better understand the late rise of this major Mayan city.

The discovery of the royal tomb inside the large mound, at the centre of the site, is part of this ongoing exploration of Belize's Mayan past.

The find is all the more remarkable that the site had been excavated since the 1890's, but no one had come across the burial chamber.

Largest Mayan tomb discovered in Belize may hold remains of local ruler
Maya epigraphers believe the hieroglyphic stair was commissioned by the ruler of Caracol, Lord K'an II 
[Credit: Jose Awe]
Interviewed by local news website 7 news Belize, Awe explained that the tomb – which is between 5 and 8 metres deep – is the first discovered at Xunantunich, and the largest in Belize. The sheer size of the structure suggests that people probably revered the person who was buried inside.

The archaeologists found the skeleton resting at the bottom of the tomb. An analysis of bones suggests the remains belong to a man because of the large size of the femurs. The teeth seem to indicate that he was between his twenties and thirties when he died.

He was buried with jade beads and potteries as well as animal remains – probably that of a jaguar or a deer. All these elements, as well as the size of the tomb, indicate that the man had a very important status and was probably the local ruler.

Largest Mayan tomb discovered in Belize may hold remains of local ruler
The panels recently discovered near the tomb at Xunantunich may be last ones missing 
[Credit: Jose Awe]
The archaeologists hope that this discovery will pave the way for a better understanding of the Mayan culture, how it was established in Belize and how burial rites were carried out. They now plan to analyse the Mayan hieroglyph writings on steles discovered near the tomb, which they hope will yield new clues about the skeleton's precise identity.

Author: Léa Surugue | Source: International Business Times [August 01, 2016]

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