for National Geographic News
Archaeologists working in Honduras have discovered an entombed human skeleton of an elite member of the ancient Maya Empire that may help unravel some longstanding mysteries of the vanished culture.
The remains, seated in an upright position in an unusual tomb and flanked by shells, pottery, vessels, and jade adornments, suggest a surprisingly diverse culture and complex political system in the influential Maya city of Copán around A.D. 650.
Located at the western edge of modern-day Honduras near the border with Guatemala, Copán, was one of the most important Maya sites, flourishing between the fifth and ninth centuries A.D. (Honduras map).
But until now, much about the political makeup and cultural range of the city—famous for its funerary slabs—has been poorly understood. (Related:“Ancient Maya Royal Tomb Discovered in Guatemala” [May 4, 2006].)
The position of the body, the structure of the tomb, and several unexpected artifacts suggest the interred individual was a political or priestly figure, said discoverer Allan Maca, an archaeologist at Colgate University in New York State.
The entombed individual was found with “a jade pectoral hung from a necklace of dozens of jade beads of various sizes,” Maca said. Because jade was a precious commodity, he added, the jewels represent “a level of control over economic resources.”
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