An excavation team led by archaeologist Jaime Awe has made in the ruins of the Mayan city of Xunantunich on July 19 a chance find, which deserves to be described with superlatives: While trying to expose a staircase to a higher building, the excavators stumbled literally on access to the largest Mayan grave chamber that has been found for over a hundred years.
The grave was untouched, containing a corpse and numerous grave goods. Under a layer of debris from around a thousand years, the researchers found at a depth of three to nine meters a chamber structure of 4.5 x 2.5 meters and a staircase.
The remains of the corpse belong to an estimated 20 to 30 years old man. The archeologists do not know yet who is buried there and how he died.
One thing is for sure: he wasn’t a poor man. Around the actual grave the researchers found 36 ceramic vessels, jade beads, 13 obsidian knives and bones of animals, possibly jaguars or deer. Dozens of obsidian and flint tools, animal figures, symbols and stone objects were found within the chamber.
A rich treasure, but not the only remarkable thing about the discovery: Unusually, in Mayan tombs, the grave building was made at the same time as the surrounding buildings – suggesting that the larger buildings were made to surround the grave. This is something familiar from Egyptian royal tombs, but not from those of the Maya and also suggests that the deceased was particularly important person.
The leading archeologist Awe suspects a royal grave from the period around the year 700 to 800. The oldest building structures of Xunantunich are estimated at an age of about 1,300 years, the most recent in 1000. Shortly thereafter the empire of the Mayas collapsed.