/ Modified nov 29, 2016 3:49 p.m.

NAU Expedition Uncovers Mayan Tomb in Belize

Burial chamber 5 times as large as typical Mayan tomb found at Xunantunich.

NAU Mayan tomb dig in Belize Birds-eye view of field workers at a tomb site in Belize.
Courtesy Jaime Awe, NAU

By Melissa Sevigny, Arizona Science Desk

An archaeology expedition led by Northern Arizona University has uncovered one of the largest Mayan tombs ever found in Belize, and scientists are calling it the most significant discovery in more than a century of research at the site.

The dig took place at Xunantunich in western Belize. NAU professor Jaime Awe brought his team of more than 30 students to the site, where they uncovered a burial chamber five times larger than a typical Mayan tomb.

“Most tombs in the Maya world are sort of dug into existing buildings,” Awe said. “Not in this case. In this case, they constructed this tomb and then built the pyramid on top of it.”

The tomb holds the remains of what appears to be an important Mayan ruler, animal bones and artifacts.

NAU’s Chrissina Burke will be among those studying the findings.

“The skeleton will actually tell us a lot,” Burke said. “We’ll be able to identify their biological sex, stature, weight, health markers, potentially where they came from in terms of where they grew up and the food that they consumed.”

The team also found two rare hieroglyphic panels in the pyramid. They’re nearly 1,400 years old and they reveal information about the alliances and conflicts of the ancient Maya.

Arizona Science Desk
This story is from the Arizona Science Desk, a collaborative of the state's public radio stations, including NPR 89.1. Read more from the Arizona Science Desk.
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