One of the largest Mayan burials ever discovered in Belize

Archaeologists unearthed what may be the largest royal tomb at the ruins of Xunantunich, a city on the Mopan river in western Belize. The site served as a ceremonial centre in the final centuries of Maya dominance around 600 to 800AD. The chamber was found at depth of 5 to 8 metres below ground while excavating a central stairway of a large structure. The temple is a stone structure that towers 40 metres above the city’s main plaza, adorned with a stucco frieze that represents the gods of the sun and moon.

Excavations at Xunantunich (by The Guardian)
Excavations at Xunantunich (by The Guardian)

Within the burial chamber the remains of a male adult, somewhere between 20 and 30 years old, lying supine with his head to the south were found. The man was athletic and “quite muscular” at his death, and that more analysis should provide clues about his identity, health and cause of death. Along the remains, the burial chamber contained jaguar and deer bones, six jade beads, possibly from a necklace, 13 obsidian blades and 36 ceramic vessels. Meanwhile the archaeologists found two offering caches at the base of the stairway. The caches contained 28 chert flints and chipped artefacts that resembled flints but were carved into the shapes of animals, leaves or other symbols.

Cache of flints (by The Guardian)
Cache of flints (by The Guardian)

Archaeologists from Northern Arizona University and the Belize Institute of Archaeology state it’s one of the largest burial chambers ever discovered in Belize. Most Maya tombs were built “intrusively”, as additions to existing structures, but the new tomb was built simultaneously with the structure around it – a practice uncommon among the Mayans.

Hieroglyphic panel at Xunantunich (by The Guardian)
Hieroglyphic panel at Xunantunich (by The Guardian)

One particularly interesting find is a group of panels covered with carved hieroglyphic writing. The panels are believed to be part of a staircase originally built around 42 kilometres to the South, at the ancient city of Caracol. The epigrapher of the team, Christophe Helmke of University of Copenhagen, states the panels provide a clue for Kan II’s conquests, the ruler of Caracol, over Waxaklajuun Ubaah Kan, the supposed other contender to the throne. Both were members of the ruling so-called snake dynasty. The panels identify the origin of the snake dynasty at Dzibanche, in the Yucatan peninsula of modern Mexico, and refer to the family’s move to their capital of Calakmul.

Xunantunich (by The Guardian)
Xunantunich (by The Guardian)

(after The Guardian)

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