Zapotec noble found buried in tomb’s 3rd chamber

Archaeologists excavating the Zapotec vertical tomb complex discovered in the Oaxacan archeological site of Atzompa three months ago have discovered the remains of a high-ranking noble in the third chamber. In the previous two chambers researchers found thematically significant, well-preserved murals and small offerings including ceramic vessels and an engraved turtle shell, but no burials. Those chambers appear to have been emptied and filled with rubble in antiquity, possibly in a cancellation ritual when Atzompa was abandoned between 850 and 900 A.D. Although experts knew that the stacked chambers, the first such architecture ever discovered, were tombs, without human remains they couldn’t be certain the complex had ever been used for burials.

The third chamber was the charm. It too was filled in antiquity with alternating layers of earth and stone, but it wasn’t cleared first. Instead the fill kept the skeletal remains and offerings safe from the ravages of looters and time. Archaeologists found the bones of a Zapotec noble, probably male. The skeleton wasn’t whole. Only the short, flat bones like vertebrae, ribs and sternum were discovered, plus large, important bones like the pelvis and skull. Along with the remains of this individual a second, fragmented skull was found, probably a sacrificial offering.

Forensic anthropologists will analyze the skeletal remains to determine, if possible, the age at death, health, nutrition and whether there were any deliberate deformations of the bones for cultural purposes.

Along with the human remains, the chamber contained a small black vessel and parts of a bowl. Under a stone slab archaeologists discovered an exceptional anthropomorphic clay urn shaped like a human face wearing earrings. A headdress was found detached on the other side of the chamber. The piece is 12 inches in diameter and 20 inches high without the headdress, about 28 inches with the headdress attached. The urn is painted a strikingly bright red, its rich hue perfectly preserved despite over 1100 years or so of existence by the fill in the chamber.

Researchers believe this third chamber was actually the first one built. Its location next to the House of the Altars made it prime real estate, so when they needed more prestige tombs, they carefully sealed the first one and built two more on top and added the stairway. They also reduced the size of the original tomb. It seems the third chamber was about 11.5 feet long originally, but some of that length was trimmed to make room for the staircase.

This would have happened in fairly quick succession. The date range for all three tombs is the same, 650 – 850 A.D. Archaeologists believe they were built within three generations.

Mexico’s National Anthropology and History Institute (INAH) has a nice photo gallery with some additional pictures of the find.

4 thoughts on “Zapotec noble found buried in tomb’s 3rd chamber

  1. Such is human society wherever it is found! Gradations of rank as nobles and commoners, human brutality (sacrifices). Sad commentary on the human race


  2. An important discovery is made regarding the history of the Americas, the history of Oaxaca, and the history of Zapotec culture – the civilization likely responsible for the creation of the “Aztec Calendar” (more accurate than the calendar we use today), and the civilization that carved in stone the earliest date yet found in the Americas (San Jose Mogote, Oaxaca, Mexico, ca. 600 BC). And the only thing you can bring to the discussion is – “Sad commentary on the human race”. Pot kettle black, pearls before swine, etc. Ignorance is a heavy cross to bear. Enlighten yourself, sir.

  3. Richard Huber, he was talking about the unjust hierarchy of man. The inequality of humans throughout virtually all cultures, and throughout all of human history. That is, in fact, a commentary on the human race. And if one truly believes that “all men are created equal,” a sad commentary at that.

  4. These are our roots none the less. No matter where on the globe we come from. Fascinating and compelling at the same time. Yet we seem to think we are above it all with our “all men are created equal fantasies”. We still look for a god of all the universe in 2023 when our planet begins to boil. Have we come so far from the Zapotec? I think not. We are entertained by a new find…signs of culture gone by…and horrified at the same time.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.