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Earliest Mesoamerican Royal Tomb Discovered by Scientific Team inside Pyramid in Chiapas
Mound 11 where the funerary chamber was found. Photo: INAH/Hector Montano.

MEXICO CITY.- A scientific team discovered inside a pyramid the tomb of a dignitary that may be the earliest in Mesoamerica. It was located in Chiapa de Corzo Archaeological Zone, in Chiapas; preliminary studies reveal an age of 2,700 years approximately.

Osseous rests of 4 persons, 2 of them richly adorned with jade beads and pearls; ceramic utensils and other objects that were treasured in that time and place were discovered at the Zoque affiliation site.

According to researchers the academic importance of the finding lies in the possibility it gives of adjusting Maya and Olmeca development stage chronologies as well as confirming the custom of using pyramids as funerary precincts goes back in time to an earlier age that thought.

The Chiapa de Corzo Archaeological Project is carried out by specialists from the National Institute of Anthropology and History (INAH), Brigham Young University (BYU), and the Center for Maya Studies part of the Philological Investigations Institute of the National University of Mexico (UNAM).

Mexican Federal Government though INAH provides resources for the project, as well as the BYU New World Archaeological Foundation, the National Geographic Society, the J. William Fulbright-García Robles Commission and private donators.

Based on ceramic material found, the preliminary date has been set in the Medium Pre Classic period, between 700 and 500 BC, information to be confirmed with Carbon 14, Strontium and DNA testing.

The Finding
A funerary chamber with annex was located inside one of the earliest structures of Mound 11; the pyramid might have been 6 or 7 meters high, and had a clay staircase and a temple atop.

A 4 by 3 square meters-tomb was uncovered 7 meters deep inside Mound 11, which contained the rests of 3 persons: one corresponds to a high-hierarchy man who was approximately 50 years old by the time of death; a one year-old boy placed by his side, and a young man, that, based on the position it had, might have been thrown inside as part of a sacrifice.

The main personage was placed in supine position with the head facing north. His mouth was covered with a shell and his teeth present shell or jade incrustations.

Archaeologists Bruce Bachand, Emiliano Gallaga and Lynneth Lowe remark the abundance of the ornaments part of the main character funerary attire:

“He was dressed up with more than 1,000 jade-bead strings; a loincloth with small pearls attached; jade ear ornaments of different shapes and small spoons of Olmeca style; rings on his ankles and knees, bracelets, a mask with green obsidian eyes, a pyrite mirror and 15 vessels, of black-grayish or black and white polished surface and negative designs”.

Inside a smaller chamber annexed to the main one, the skeleton of a woman was found. She presented dental incrustations and her mouth was covered with a shell too. The body was in supine position heading east, and it also was dressed up with jade strings and pearls, ear ornaments with the shape of a monkey and a bird, 2 vessels, a pyrite mirror, amber beads, and over her chest a stingray spine.

Archaeologist Gallaga mentioned that the presence of amber in archaeological contexts is rare, and being this one of the earliest burials found, it confirms it was used in ritual several centuries ago.

Pyramids as Funerary Precincts
Emiliano Gallaga, director of Chiapas INAH Center, Bruce Bachand from the BYU and Lynneth Lowe from UNAM, coincided that the features of the discovery confirm that Mesoamerican tradition of using pyramids as tombs is more ancient than it was thought, and it was not originated in the Maya area.

“A thousand years before Mayas placed royal tombs inside pyramids, in Chiapa de Corzo these structures were used to bury important personages, in 700 BC”.

The quantity and variety of elements offered indicates that exchange between the central region of Chiapas and places afar, such as Mexico Valley, Mexico Gulf Coast and Motagua Valley, Guatemala, where the biggest jade deposits were located, began early.

Similarities between this tomb and those discovered in the 1940’s decade in La Venta, Tabasco, confirm the link that both cities maintained in the Medium Pre Classic period.

The archaeologists remarked that human occupation at Chiapa de Corzo goes back to 1200 BC, date when settlements at the central Olmeca area were founded.

“Certainly, this tomb has a connection with Olmeca nuclear region, specifically with La Venta. Some elements show a separation between the leaders of both cities, but to confirm this we need to explore domestic areas at Chiapa de Corzo.

Zoque culture, part of a linguistic family that developed in Tehuantepec Isthmus and Gulf Coast, established in this Prehispanic city”, they concluded.

Mexico | Chiapa de Corzo Archaeological Zone | National Institute of Anthropology and History |

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