This is the extraordinary grave of an ancient king credited with laying the foundations more than 2,000 years ago for the Mayan civilization discovered in Guatemala by archaeologists.
Amazing find: More pots found in the royal tomb of the Mayan king, located to the west of Guatemala City
Researchers said the tomb of King K’utz Chman, a priest believed to have reigned about 700 B.C., was discovered at the Tak’alik Ab’aj dig in Retalhuleu, in the southwest of the country.
It is the oldest royal Mayan burial ground ever discovered, packed with jade jewels and other artefacts.
Guatemala is studded with ruins from the ancient Mayan civilisation, which thrived between A.D. 250 and 800 and extended from modern day Honduras to central Mexico. The Olmec Empire began to fade around 400 B.C. while Mayans grew in number and wrested control of trade routes.
Great treasures: Packed with artefacts, the grave is the most ancient royal Mayan burial ground found to date
Inside the grave, the team found glistening jade jewels including a necklace with a pendant carved in the shape of a vulture’s head, a symbol that represented power and high economic status and that was given to respected elder men.
‘This symbol gives this burial greater importance,’ Mr Orrego said. ‘This glyph says he (is) one of the earliest rulers of Tak’alik Ab’aj.’
‘He was the big chief. The ruler who bridged the gaps between Olmec and Mayan cultures and initiated the slow transition to Mayan rule’
Miguel Orrego, government archaeologist
Scientists found the grave in June, but it has taken until now for experts to verify it belonged to K’utz Chman.
Although no human remains were found at the site, the carbon dated artefacts suggest that the king was buried between 770 to 510 B.C.
Verification: Scientists found the grave in June, but it has taken until now to confirm it belonged to K’utz Chman
‘The richness of the artefacts tells us he was an important and powerful religious leader,’ archaeologist Christa Schieber said. ‘He was very likely the person who began to make the changes in the system and transition into the Mayan world.’
Experts said the array of jade articles in the tomb could provide clues about production and trade.
‘The richness of the artefacts tells us he was an important and powerful religious leader. He was very likely the person who began to make the changes in the system and transition into the Mayan world’
Jade beans: Guatemala is studded with amazing ruins from the Mayans, who thrived between A.D. 250 and 800
Christa Schieber, archaeologist
Susan Gillespie, an archaeologist at the University of Florida who was not involved in the excavation, spoke about the find.
She said older tombs have been found from ruling circles at the Mayan site of Copan in Honduras as well as in southern Mexico, where the pre-Mayan Olmec culture flourished.
Olmec influences are present in the area around Tak’alik Ab’aj, indicating possible links.
Importance: The team found glistening jade jewels, including a necklace with a pendant carved in the shape of a vulture’s head – a symbol that represented power and high economic status
On location: The site of the discovery of the royal tomb at the Tak’alik Ab’aj dig in Retalhuleu in Guatemala
She said that because it is near a jadeite production centre, the find could shed light on early techniques and trade in the stone, which was considered by the Maya to have sacred properties.