Monday, May 10, 2004

Tomb of Mayan queen uncovered

"While excavating an ancient royal palace deep in the Guatemalan rain forest, archaeologists made a rare discovery - the 1,200-year-old tomb and skeleton of a Mayan queen.

Archaeologists announced the find Thursday and said the woman appears to have been a powerful leader of a city that may have been home to tens of thousands of people at its peak. They found her bones on a raised platform, with evidence of riches scattered around her body.

The queen's skull and leg bones were missing, probably removed sometime after the body had decomposed to be used as relics. Other than that, the tomb - measuring 11 feet long by 4 feet wide by 6 feet high - was untouched.

The queen is thought to have been 30 to 45 when she died, but archaeologists have uncovered no clues as to her name, dynasty or cause of death.

Twenty-two jade plaques, each about 2 inches square, appear to have been part of the helmet. Archaeologists also found a 4-inch-long jade carving depicting the dead of a deity in profile - a type of jewel worn by kings and queens, David Freidel, an anthropology professor at Southern Methodist University, which sponsored a team of 20 archaeologists excavating the site said.

Stingray spines found in the tomb usually were used as bloodletting implements - males pierced their genitals in ceremonies that offered their blood to the gods, while women generally placed the spines in their tongues. The ones found in the tomb were placed on the queen's pelvis, Freidel said.

"She's being represented as both male and female, in my view," Freidel said."