Oldest Royal Tomb of the Classic Maya Centipede Dynasty is Unearthed in Guatemala
The Ministry of Culture and Sports of Guatemala has declared the excavation of a royal tomb pertaining to a mature man at the Classic Maya city of Waka' as the oldest royal tomb to be discovered at the archaeological site so far.
Oldest Royal Tomb in Northern Guatemala’s History Unearthed
El Perú-Waka' is an ancient Maya city located in present-day northwestern Petén, Guatemala. Rediscovered by petroleum exploration workers in the mid-1960s, it is the largest known archaeological site in the Laguna del Tigre National Park in Guatemala's Maya Biosphere Reserve.
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The El Perú-Waka' Regional Archaeological Project initiated scientific investigations in 2003, and through excavation and survey, researchers established that Waka' was a key political and economic center well-integrated into Classic-period lowland Maya civilization . Their research has enabled them to reconstruct many aspects of Maya life and ritual activity in this ancient community.
Palace Acropolis at the Maya city of El Peru-Waka in northern Guatemala. ( Damien Marken )
According to Phys .org, the most recent finding at the site consists of a royal tomb, discovered by Guatemalan archaeologists of the U.S.-Guatemalan El Perú-Waka' Archaeological Project. The tomb has been dated by ceramic analysis to 300-350 AD, making it the earliest known royal tomb in the region.
"The Classic Maya revered their divine rulers and treated them as living souls after death," David Freidel, a professor at Washington University and leader of the research at this site in collaboration with Guatemalan and foreign archaeologists since 2003, told the SOURCE . He continued,
"This king's tomb helped to make the royal palace acropolis holy ground, a place of majesty, early in the history of the Wak - centipede - dynasty. It's like the ancient Saxon kings England buried in Old Minister, the original church underneath Winchester Cathedral."
King and captive from Tonina (the king is probably K'inich Kan Balam II). Sculpture from Temple 17 at Palenque, Chiapas, Mexico. Museo del Sitio. ( CC BY SA 2.0 ) The Maya revered their divine rulers after death.
The Monument that Narrates a Fascinating Story of a Mayan Cleopatra
The Maya city of El Perú-Waka’ has been very “generous” with its excavators during the past two decades, as the site has uncovered six royal tombs and sacrificial offering burials dating to the fifth, sixth and seventh centuries AD.
As reported in a previous Ancient Origins article , archaeologists excavating underneath a temple at the site discovered an intricately carved stone monument with hieroglyphic text dating back approximately 1,500 years, providing new insights into the ancient kingdom of Wak and its relations with the most powerful kingdoms in the lowland Maya world.
The monument, named El Perú Stela 44, was found in a tunnel underneath the main temple of the city which led to a royal tomb. Its text reveals that the monument was dedicated on January 25, AD 564, during a “Dark Age” period of the site’s history known as the Hiatus, when it was previously thought that no monuments were being carved at the site.
Maya Snake Queen Lady Ikoom as depicted on Stela 44. (Credit: Photo by Francico Castaneda; courtesy of Proyecto Arqueológico El Perú-Waka´y PACUNAM )
The hieroglyphic text also suggests that the monument was commissioned by Wak dynasty King Wa’oom Uch’ab Tzi’kin ( He Who Stands up the Offering of the Eagle ) to honor his father, King Chak Took Ich’aak ( Red Spark Claw ), who had died in 556 AD. More importantly, the text tells the story of a little-known princess whose progeny prevailed in a bloody, back-and-forth struggle between two of the civilization’s most powerful royal dynasties: Lady Ikoom.
Maya Snake Queen Lady Ikoom as represented on Stela 43. (Credit: Photo by Francico Castaneda; courtesy of Proyecto Arqueológico El Perú-Waka´y PACUNAM )
Lady Ikoom was a predecessor to one of the most famous queens of Classic Maya civilization, the seventh-century Maya Holy Snake Lord known as Lady K’abel who ruled El Perú-Waka’ for more than 20 years with her husband, King K’inich Bahlam II. She was the military governor of the Wak kingdom for her family, the imperial house of the Snake King, and she carried the title ‘Kaloomte,’ translated as ‘Supreme Warrior,’ higher in authority than her husband, the king.
El Peru Stelae 33 (left) and 34 (right), portraying K’inich Bahlam II and Lady K’abel. ( El Perú-Waka' Archaeological Project )
Royal Status of “Burial 80” Confirmed
Fast forward to 2017 when the recent findings were revealed at a Guatemalan symposium funded by the Ministry of Culture. Archaeologists refer to the newly discovered tomb as "Burial 80" and suggest that it dates back to the early years of the Wak royal dynasty.
Seen as one of the oldest known Maya dynasties, the Wak is believed to have been established in the second century based on estimations from a later historical text that was found at the site. However, the ruler’s identity remains unknown for now, “Although the ruler in Burial 80, identified as a mature man, was not accompanied by inscribed artifacts and is therefore anonymous, he is possibly King Te' Chan Ahk, a historically known Wak king who was ruling in the early fourth century AD,” Freidel said .
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Burial 80 during excavation shows a stone cup in the center surrounded by bones. ( Proyecto Arqueológico Waka’ and the Ministry of Culture and Sports of Guatemala )
Regardless, the archaeologists were able to conclude that the tomb is royal after they found a jade portrait mask portraying the ruler with the forehead hair tab of the Maize God (Maya kings were usually depicted as Maize God impersonators). Additionally, the newly found forehead tab has a distinctive "Greek Cross" symbol which means "Yellow" and "Precious" in ancient Mayan. This symbol is also associated with the Maize God.
Finally, the research team uncovered plenty of offerings in Burial 80, including twenty-two ceramic vessels, spondylus shells, jade ornaments, and a shell pendant carved as a crocodile.
Jade mask from Burial 80, painted red with cinnabar paint. ( Proyecto Arqueológico Waka’ and the Ministry of Culture and Sports of Guatemala )
Top Image: A stone cup in the center of burial 80 surrounded by bones during excavation. And the j ade mask found in the burial, painted red with cinnabar paint. ( Proyecto Arqueológico Waka’ and the Ministry of Culture and Sports of Guatemala )
I greatly enjoyed your article. The descriptive aspects of life during the Wac dynasty are particularly useful. I am rearching the culture of the region and its history, to recreate an accurate depiction.
I realize mine is the first post in reply to your article, but then, this is not a field of study shared by the multitudes. It tends to be reserved for thoughtful people who ponder our origins. But then, it has always been this way. Thank you.