The skeleton of a Maya Queen – with her head mysteriously placed between two bowls – is just one of the treasures found in a 2,000-year-old rodent-infested tomb.
Priceless jade gorgets, beads, and ceremonial knives were also discovered in the cavern – which was found underneath a younger 1,300-year-old tomb that also contained a body – in the Guatemalan ruins of Nakum.
The two royal burials are the first to be discovered at the site, which was once a densely packed Maya centre.
Discovery: The skeleton of a Maya Queen – with her head mysteriously placed between two bowls – is just one of the treasures found in a 2,000-year-old rodent-infested tomb
Wiesław Koszkul and colleagues from the Jagiellonian University Institute of Archaeology in Krakow, Poland, have been investigating Nakum’s surroundings, known as the Cultural Triangle, for decades.
Koszkul said: ‘We think this structure was something like a mausoleum for the royal lineage for at least 400 years.’
The upper tomb’s corpse had been badly destroyed by rodents over the intervening centuries, but researchers said it was clearly the body of another Maya ruler.
They also believed it could be of a woman because of a small size of a ring found in the tomb.
Excavations started on the site, which had been completely overtaken by the jungle, in 2006.
Mystery: The head of the dead woman found in the tomb was covered by a vessel
Once inside the first level of the tomb, the scientists noticed cracks in the floor and when they cut through the floor, they found the second, older crypt.
Koszkul said: ‘I think we could find some more burials beneath the level we excavated, [but] our excavations – our test pits – are very narrow.’
He said he did not know exactly why the body had been buried with bowls.
But that he had seen ‘similar patterns’ in the Guatemalan site of Tikal.
Maya Queen: A traditional picture of the queen by Ewald Kuch
And he admitted that the royal figure’s gender had also taken them by surprise. ‘It’s surprising to me – we were expecting a male,’ he said.
‘What was really amazing was that the tomb was unlooted, despite the fact that we found looters’ trenches around the side,’ said project director Jaroslaw Zralka.