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.
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.
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 ᴅᴇᴀтн,” 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.”
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 sᴀcʀιғιcιᴀʟ 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.
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 ᴅιᴇᴅ 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.
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.
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 .
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.