26 Oct 2012

One of oldest Mayan tombs found in Guataemala

8:00 pm on 26 October 2012

Archaeologists say one of the oldest Mayan tombs ever found has been uncovered in western Guatemala.

Located at a temple site in Retalhuleu province, about 180km south of Guatemala City, the grave is thought to be that of an ancient ruler or religious leader who lived more than 2000 years ago.

Government archaeologist Miguel Orrego says carbon-dating indicates the tomb was built between 700 and 400 BC. It contains a rich array of jade jewels, including a necklace depicting a vulture-headed human figure.

No bones have been found - probably because they disintegrated, the BBC reports.

But the vulture-headed figure appears to identify the tomb's occupant as an ajaw - or ruler - because the symbol represented power and economic status and was given to respected elder men.

The archaeologists have named the grave's occupant K'utz Chman, which in the Mayan language, Mam, means Grandfather Vulture.

"He was a big chief," says Mr Orrego. "He bridged the gap between the Olmec and Mayan cultures in central America."

Reuters cites historians as saying he may have been the first to introduce elements that later became characteristic of the Mayan culture, such as the building of pyramids and the carving of sculptures depicting royal families.

Another archaeologist working at the site, Christa Schieber, says the Olmec empire began to fade at around 400 BC, while the Maya civilisation was starting to grow and develop.

The Mayans went on to rule much of Central America from 250 to 800 AD; their empire extended from modern-day Honduras to central Mexico.