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Wash. U. Archaeologist Discovers Tomb of Mayan Warrior Queen

k'abel-tomb_opt.jpg
El Perú-Waka' Archaeological Project
The tomb of K'abel, Supreme Warrior and Snake Lord. Her skull peeps up just above the plate fragments.
At the end of the seventh century, the Mayan queen K'abel was the most powerful ruler in northwestern Petén, Guatemala. Not only did she reign with her husband K'inich Bahlam for nearly twenty years, she also bore the titles Supreme Warrior and, most awesomely, Holy Snake Lord -- which meant her authority vastly exceeded that of the king.

Now a team of archaeologists, led by Washington University professor David Freidel, believe they have found her tomb.

Freidel and his group, which includes co-director Juan Carlos Pérez, a former official in the Guatemalan government, and a former student Olivia Navarro Farr, now a professor at the College of Wooster in Ohio, have been investigating the ancient Maya city of El Perú-Waka' since 2003. El Perú-Waka' is about 45 miles west of Tikal and is about two-thirds of a mile square. The archaeologists have been concentrating on what Freidel calls "ritually charged" areas.

This past spring they began investigating a shrine about halfway up the city's main pyramid. Based on historical records, the archaeologists knew the shrine was sacred place to many generations of Mayans, even after the fall of the dynasty that ruled El Perú. It contained the remains of a fire altar.

Beneath the altar, Freidel and his team found the bones of what their report describes as "a single mature individual" surrounded by lots of ceramic vessels and pieces of jade jewelry and the remains of other, more perishable items. (An investigation is currently underway to figure out what, exactly, those items were supposed to be.)

The bones themselves have deteriorated too much for anybody to determine whether they belonged to a male or female. The archaeologists did, however, find a large red spiny oyster shell on what would have been the torso, sort of like the ones the queens of Waka' liked to wear as girdles, a good sign that the tomb's inhabitant was also a queen.

But what really caught the team's interest was this alabaster jar. Or, more specifically, the hieroglyphs engraved on an alabaster jar.

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