Oldest known pyramid tomb found in Chiapas

A team of archaeologists from Brigham Young University in the US, the Mexican National Institute of History and Anthropology, and the National Autonomous University of Mexico excavating the ruins of a pyramid in Chiapa de Corzo, southern Mexico, have uncovered an elaborate ancient burial. Pottery found buried with the remains dates the burial to 700 B.C., a thousand years before the Maya built pyramids to entomb their royalty. That makes this pyramid the oldest pyramid tomb in Mesoamerica.

The team found the burial chamber deep inside the pyramid after digging for 24 hours. This chamber held the remains of three people: a wealthy middle-aged male, a baby, and a young man. On a landing outside the chamber were the remains of a wealthy woman.

Jade jewels found in the mouth of the wealthy maleThe middle-aged man was richly adorned, his mouth was covered with a shell and his teeth were incrusted with jade. He also wore bracelets, anklets, necklaces and what the archaeologists believe to be a funerary mask with eyes made of green obsidian.

Investigators from the Archaeological Project Chiapa de Corzo say that judging by the wealth of jewellery he was buried with, he would have been of high rank.

Wealthy female buried with jewels and an iron pyrite mirrorThey said the two other bodies may have been added to the tomb to accompany the dead man to the afterworld and were possibly sacrificed.

The researchers say the position of the bones suggests the baby was carefully placed in the tomb, while the young man was possibly thrown into the burial chamber.

In an annex to the main chamber, the archaeologists found another smaller room containing the skeleton of a woman, also richly adorned with amber and pendants depicting birds and a monkey.

As far which pre-Colombian culture built the pyramid, that’s still unknown at this time. The period in question was a transitional one, and Chiapas, the southernmost state of Mexico on the border with Guatemala, was inhabited by a variety of peoples interacting, trading, intermarrying, fighting. The Olmec were up north near the Gulf but their influence spread far inland, the Maya were sprouting up in the south, the Zapotec were in nearby Oaxaca.

Some of the pottery in the tomb is similar in style to grave goods found in Olmec burials in La Venta, Tabasco, but they could have been traded, so we don’t know if the decedents were actually Olmec or just influenced by Olmec culture.

National Geographic has some more great pictures of the find.

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