Beneath El Diablo lies… fingers?

The finds beneath the El Diablo pyramid at the site of El Zotz in Guatemala have been confusing archaeologists from Brown University. They knew that the pyramid belonged to the Sun King, a sign of kingship. Early finds revealed a number of blood red bowls with human fingers and teeth, and a cremated infant. Moving slowly through the soil revealed layers of large flat stones and mud. Chipping away at the final layer of stone revealed a large tomb, approximately 6 by 12 by 4 feet.

The chamber includes the remains of an adult male and six children. The position of the tomb beneath the pyramid and the large number of ritual and prestige goods led researchers to argue that the tomb was both that of a royal king and likely a founder of the city. The artifacts include a headdress, a knife, bells, various carving, textiles and dog canines. Decorating the walls was colorful stucco and a variety of textiles. A large number of tests have have yet to be conducted on the bones, artifacts and mortuary context, and the team will be releasing information within the next few months.

Currently, the information known is that the tomb dates from 350 to 400 AD. The position of the tomb beneath the pyramid and the large number of ritual and prestige goods led researchers to argue that the tomb was both that of a royal king and likely a founder of the city. Hieroglyphics show images of the individual as a ritual dancer, and the inclusion of bells, clappers and dog canines support this proposition.

The find is being heralded as one of the most important of 2010, and while there are many reasons- the most important is its preservation. The site of El Zotz was heavily looted in the 1970’s, so the finding of an intact tomb is very important towards learning more about this culture. The team hopes to learn more about mortuary patterns at the site, as well as compare the site against Tikal, its contemporary neighbor. Luckily for us, the team is running a website about the dig. Sadly, it isn’t updated frequently and lacks a place for direct discussion.

One important archaeological lesson from this is the necessity for careful excavation. Many of the details regarding the offerings before the burial, the way that they were presented, and the overall mortuary context would have been sacrificed for the royal tomb findings. In the past the bones could have even been thrown away. The careful excavation by the Brown University team is extremely important towards learning all that we can about the royals at this Mayan site. To summarize: careful excavation equals more nuanced interpretations. Having a multidisciplinary team of ivy league professors at your fingertips to interpret the bones, stones and artifacts doesn’t hurt either.

Works Cited

Skidmore. 2010. Royal Tomb discovered in the Diablo Group at El Zotz. http://www.mesoweb.com/reports/ZotzTomb.pdf

Brown University Research Team. 2010. Research at El Zotz. http://www.mesoweb.com/zotz/

NSF Press Release. 2010. USA News. Mayan King’s Tomb Discovered. http://www.usnews.com/science/articles/2010/12/30/mayan-kings-tomb-discovered-in-guatemala.html?PageNr=2&s_cid=rss:mayan-kings-tomb-discovered-in-guatemala

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