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calendar   Thursday - June 30, 2011

Oh My Oh Mayan

1500 Year Old Sealed Mayan Tomb Visited By Camera Robot

We had the R part earlier, so here’s an interesting bit of A. Your A&R Thursday is now complete.

image Palenque, Mexico Researchers have lowered a small camera into a previously unexplored early Mayan tomb at the Palenque archaeological site in southern Mexico, revealing an intact funeral chamber, apparent offerings and red-painted wall murals.

Footage of the approximately 1,500-year-old tomb taken by the small, remote-controlled camera show a series of nine figures depicted in black on a vivid, blood-red background. Vases and jade ornaments can be seen on the floor of the small chamber.

The National Institute of Anthropology and History said Thursday archaeologists have known a tomb existed at the site since 1999, but they had been unable to enter it because the pyramid standing above it is unstable and entering the chamber could have damaged the murals.

imageToo fragile to excavate, archaeologists had to rely on artificial eyes to peek inside the burial chamber [this link also has a short video]. But when they lowered the video camera down, they were surely glad they hadn’t ruined the tomb with major digging. Scientists found a fully intact tomb that laid untouched and undiscovered [unexplored] for more than 1,500 years. They gazed upon red frescoes, pottery, and funeral arrangements that had been strikingly well-preserved.

The tomb is located inside a pyramid in the southern Mexico town of Palenque. Pyramids are notoriously difficult to infiltrate considering their fragility and age. In fact, scientists discovered this particular tomb in 1999, and until now had not found a way to penetrate its thick walls without compromising the structure.

The archaeologists from Mexico’s National Institute of Anthropology and History lowered the matchbox-sized camera down through a hole in the top of the pyramid to gaze upon its contents. They believe it contains the remains of a Mayan ruler who died around 550 A.D.

While they found no sarcophagus or remains, they predict the images brought back to the surface – of black figures, red drawings, and jade and pearl stones – will help paint a picture of the Mayan ruler likely buried inside. Hopefully they can do it before the Mayans’ prediction of the end of the world in 2012.

Palenque was a Mayan city-state in what is now Mexico’s Chiapas state, but after its decline during the 8th Century AD it was absorbed into the jungle. It has been extensively excavated, in particular over the past two decades, but much of it remains to be uncovered.

Mexico’s National Institute of Anthropology and History (Inah) said its archaeologists had been aware of the tomb for more than a decade, but had not been able to examine it.

“Its difficult location and the work to consolidate the plinth had until now impeded penetration into the enclosure, which jealously guards the remains of a very important person from this ancient Mayan city,” Inah said in a statement.

It said that the researchers overcame the difficulties by lowering the remote-controlled camera the size of a matchbox down along a narrow shaft into the largely intact chamber. Inside, the camera revealed nine black figures painted on blood-red walls, along with jade and shell fragments, which are believed to be part of a funerary costume.

But unlike in other tombs in Palenque, no sarcophagus has been found. “It is very probable that the fragmented bones are lying directly on the stones of the floor,” Inah said.

Experts say the tomb probably dates to between AD431 and 550, and could belong to the first ruler of Palenque - K’uk Bahlam I.

I looked around a bit and there only seems to be one other picture from inside the tomb. That one can be seen here, along with a larger picture of the tomb picture above, and a 5 minute video in Spanish about the Mayas and Palenque. This is a pretty cool event, but there isn’t much to see yet.

This tomb was found in the bottom of a great pyramid, and as far as the archaeologists could tell, it hadn’t been opened in 1500 years. A tomb in a pyramid had to be someone of great importance, and therefore of great wealth. The tomb ought to have been packed full of treasure, but there is none shown in the picture. Perhaps they are hiding it, because of the huge scope of tomb robbery down there. Perhaps it’s in another room off-camera. Or perhaps the tomb was robbed 1502 years ago, and nothing is left except a bit of paint.

The Maya were a pretty depraved lot, big into human sacrifice, cutting out hearts, wearing the skins of the dead as ritual clothing, cannibalism, and so forth. Yes, they took their religion seriously, but their gods were blood thirsty maniacs. Oh sure, they did great things with astronomy, irrigation, and agriculture, and even had a reasonable economy going for several centuries, but blood and gore were, ahem, at the heart of things. So this tomb, which was originally either fully painted with red ochre, cinnibar, or literally bathed in buckets of blood (tests will tell I guess), is just what I expected. Symbolize the life force all you want ... these were some sick little jungle monkeys.


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Posted by Drew458   United States  on 06/30/2011 at 05:17 PM   
Filed Under: • Archeology / Anthropology •  
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