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Remarkable Secret Tombs of Maya Snake Kings Reveal Fascinating Story

Remarkable Secret Tombs of Maya Snake Kings Reveal Fascinating Story

Archeologists have unearthed two un-looted Maya tombs in the Holmul ruins of Guatemala. The discoveries within the tombs connect with previous artifacts, and shed light on the famous story of influential Maya kings, whose symbol was a snakehead.

The tombs were discovered 300 miles (482 km) north of Guatemala City at the archaeological site and ancient Maya city of Holmul. Both tombs date to between 650 – 700 AD, when the Pre-Columbian civilization dominated these lands, and just before it fell. Guatemala played a very important part of Maya history, however, there remain many mysteries, such as why the civilization collapsed. Researchers believe excavations of the many Maya ruins may be the key to unlocking the hidden history.

According to The Guardian , the tombs “miraculously escaped” looters’ tunnels underneath two Maya pyramids. Moreover, at the site they discovered jade-inlaid teeth, an inscribed human tibia and a puzzling, sun-god pendant.

Inside one of the tombs was found a puzzling artifact of a Maya dynasty called ‘The Snake Kings’ due to their emblem. The snakehead was a symbol of the family that ruled for several generations about 100 miles (161 km) to north from the tombs in Holmul. This family of ‘snake kings’ warred with another rival family.

Tombs Filled with Rare Finds

One of the tombs was built into a pyramid, which was constructed to cover and surround the building from the fifth century AD. It contained the preserved skeleton of a middle-aged person with teeth inlays made of jade. Archaeologists were surprised to also discover what they believe is a human tibia bone with inscriptions carved into it.

Archeologist Francisco Estrada-Belli of Boston University told the Guardian that the inscribed bone is 'a very, very rare find'' and the skeleton “could be from and ancestor or captive of war”. Tooth inlays suggest that the tomb may have belonged to someone from an elite family, as such tooth adornment was custom among Maya royalty, reports ScienceAlert.com

Estrada-Belli believes that epigraphical analysis on the bone will bring even more information.

Pyramid Temple E in Nakum, Petén, Guatemala; Representational image only.

Pyramid Temple E in Nakum, Petén, Guatemala; Representational image only. ( CC BY-SA 4.0 )

The second tomb, which was discovered in a separate pyramid, also contained the skeletal remains of a middle-aged person. This tomb was decorated with jade artifacts and various vessels. What was most significant was the discovery of a ‘war trophy’ — a jade pendant with an inscription stating that it belongs to a far-away king.

The impressive jade artifact contains the name of a snake king, making it the first discovery of this kind. The inscription reads “Yuknoom Ti’ Chan, Holy king of Kaanul.” It is known that this king was a member of the mysterious dynasty, and its presence in a tomb so far from their region suggests their influence stretched farther than previously thought.

A jade Serpent Head Pendant; representational image only. Mexico, Chiapas or Guatemala, Maya, A.D. 200-900

A jade Serpent Head Pendant; representational image only. Mexico, Chiapas or Guatemala, Maya, A.D. 200-900 (LACMA/ Public Domain )

The tombs also contained also a conch shell that had been made into a scribal ink pot and artifacts made of obsidian, ceramics, shells, and jade.

The discoveries can be partly compared to the ones made on another site in Guatemala – Tikal, where the researchers found a similar carved bone that bore inscriptions of the name of a captured warrior. Rosemary Joyce, an anthropologist at UC Berkeley, who was not involved in the excavation, claimed the bones should be examined by anthropologists before confirming it is human or an animal bone.

Discovery of a Maya Mountain Spirit

The ancient site in Holmul, in the Petén Basin is one of the most fascinating places, and excavations have delighted researchers with many rich discoveries over the years. April Holloway from Ancient Origins reported in 2013 on the discovery of a massive Maya frieze at the same site:

“Archaeologists have discovered a giant Maya frieze in the buried city of Holmul in the Peten Basin region of Guatemala. It depicts a mythological setting with a ruler sitting atop the head of a Maya mountain spirit.

The frieze, which measures 8 meters by 2 meters (26 feet by 6.5 feet), is one of the best preserved examples of its kind. There are even traces of red, blue, green, and yellow paints still visible, and there are no missing parts to it, only a small faded corner which is close to the surface.”

The Maya frieze in excellent condition.

The Maya frieze in excellent condition. (Francisco Estrada-Belli photo/Nola.com)

Maya archaeologist Marcello Canuto said of the find, “It gives you an idea of how intricate and ornate these sites that we are excavating must have been during their apogee. These sites must have been a feast for the eyes when they were inhabited.”

“The section of the temple at Holmul where the frieze was found dates back to about 590 AD which corresponds to the Maya classical era, a period defined by the power struggles between two major Maya dynasties: Tikal and Kaanul. The two kingdoms competed with one another for resources and for control of other, smaller Maya city-states.  Until now, however, it had been unclear which dynasty had control over Holmul, but the frieze reveals that the temple was commissioned by a ruler of a neighboring city called Naranjo, which was a vassal city of the Kaanul kingdom.”

Temple at Tikal, Guatemala.

Temple at Tikal, Guatemala. ( CC BY-SA 2.5 )

Archaeologists at Holmul believe that continued investigations and excavations can open the doors to solving the many mysteries of the ancient Maya ''snake kings''.

Top Image: The Maya mural found recently in Guatemala is in near-perfect condition. (Boston University)

By Natalia Klimczak

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