Tomb of Maya queen K'abel discovered in Guatemala

Oct 03, 2012 by Jessica Daues
Tomb of Maya queen K'abel discovered in Guatemala
The carved alabaster vessel (shown from two sides) found in the burial chamber caused the archaeologists to conclude the tomb was that of Lady K’abel. Credit: EL PERU WAKA REGIONAL ARCHAEOLOGICAL PROJECT

(Phys.org)—Archaeologists in Guatemala have discovered the tomb of Lady K'abel, a seventh-century Maya Holy Snake Lord considered one of the great queens of Classic Maya civilization.

The tomb was discovered during excavations of the royal of El Perú-Waka' in northwestern Petén, Guatemala, by a team of archaeologists led by Washington University in St. Louis' David Freidel, co-director of the expedition.

A small, carved alabaster jar found in the caused the archaeologists to conclude the tomb was that of Lady K'abel.

The white jar is carved as a conch shell, with a head and arm of an aged woman emerging from the opening. The depiction of the woman, mature with a lined face and a strand of hair in front of her ear, and four glyphs carved into the jar, point to the jar as belonging to K'abel.

Based on this and other evidence, including ceramic vessels found in the tomb and stela (large stone slab) carvings on the outside, the tomb is likely that of K'abel, says Freidel, PhD, professor of anthropology in Arts & Sciences and Maya scholar.

Freidel says the discovery is significant not only because the tomb is that of a notable historical figure in Maya history, but also because the newly uncovered tomb is a rare situation in which Maya archaeological and historical records meet.

This video is not supported by your browser at this time.
WUSTL archaeologist David Freidel, PhD, was part of a team that discovered the tomb of Lady K’abel, a seventh-century Maya Holy Snake Lord considered one of the great queens of Classic Maya civilization.

"The Classic Maya civilization is the only 'classical' archaeological field in the New World—in the sense that like archaeology in Ancient Egypt, Greece, Mesopotamia or China, there is both an archaeological material record and an historical record based on texts and images," Freidel says.

"The precise nature of the text and image information on the white stone jar and its tomb context constitute a remarkable and rare conjunction of these two kinds of records in the Maya area."

Tomb of Maya queen K'abel discovered in Guatemala
The burial chamber. The queen’s skull is above the plate fragments. Credit: EL PERU WAKA REGIONAL ARCHAEOLOGICAL PROJECT

The discovery of the tomb of the great queen was "serendipitous, to put it mildly," Freidel says.

The team at El Perú-Waka' has focused on uncovering and studying "ritually-charged" features such as shrines, altars and dedicatory offerings rather than on locating burial locations of particular individuals.

"In retrospect, it makes a lot of sense that the people of Waka' buried her in this particularly prominent place in their city," Freidel says.

Olivia Navarro-Farr, PhD, assistant professor of anthropology at the College of Wooster in Ohio, originally began excavating the locale while still a doctoral student of Freidel's. Continuing to investigate this area this season was of major interest to both she and Freidel because it had been the location of a temple that received much reverence and ritual attention for generations after the fall of the dynasty at El Perú.

With the discovery, now understand the likely reason why the temple was so revered: K'abel was buried there, Freidel says.

Tomb of Maya queen K'abel discovered in Guatemala
Drawing of the glyphs on the back of the alabaster vessel (pictured at top of story) by Stanley Guenter.

K'abel, considered the greatest ruler of the Late Classic period, ruled with her husband, K'inich Bahlam, for at least 20 years (672-692 AD), Freidel says. She was the military governor of the Wak kingdom for her family, the imperial house of the King, and she carried the title "Kaloomte'," translated to "Supreme Warrior," higher in authority than her husband, the king.

K'abel also is famous for her portrayal on the famous Maya stela, Stela 34 of El Perú, now in the Cleveland Art Museum.

El Perú-Waka', located approximately 75 km west of the famous city of Tikal, is an ancient Maya city in northwestern Petén, Guatemala. It was part of Classic (200-900 AD) in the southern lowlands and consists of nearly a square kilometer of plazas, palaces, temple pyramids and residences surrounded by many square kilometers of dispersed residences and temples.

This discovery was made under the auspices of the National Institute of and History in Guatemala. The El Perú-Waka' project is sponsored by the Foundation for the Cultural and Natural Patrimony of Guatemala (PACUNAM).

Explore further: Radar search to find lost Aboriginal burial site

More information: Along with David Freidel, professor of anthropology at WUSTL, the project is co-directed by Juan Carlos Pérez, former vice minister of culture for cultural heritage of Guatemala. Olivia Navarro-Farr, assistant professor of anthropology at the College of Wooster in Ohio, directed the excavations with Griselda Pérez Robles, former director of prehistoric monuments in the National Institute of Anthropology and History, and archaeologist Damaris Menéndez.

Related Stories

Mexico: Maya tomb find could help explain collapse

Jan 28, 2010

(AP) -- Mexican archaeologists have found an 1,100-year-old tomb from the twilight of the Maya civilization that they hope may shed light on what happened to the once-glorious culture.

Mass murder mystery of Maya kingdom

Nov 17, 2005

Forensic scientists with mass burial expertise have been called into an ancient Maya city in Guatemala to help unravel a 1,300-year-old mass murder mystery.

Mayan king's tomb discovered in Guatemala

Jul 16, 2010

A well-preserved tomb of an ancient Mayan king has been discovered in Guatemala by a team of archaeologists led by Brown University's Stephen Houston. The tomb is packed with of carvings, ceramics, textiles, and the bones ...

Tomb of Maya prince discovered in Mexico

Jul 30, 2012

Archaeologists from the Department of Anthropology of the Americas at the University of Bonn have been excavating for the past four years together with the Mexican National Institute of Anthropology and History in the Maya ...

El Zotz masks yield insights into Maya beliefs

Jul 18, 2012

(Phys.org) -- A team of archaeologists led by Brown University's Stephen Houston has uncovered a pyramid, part of the Maya archaeological site at El Zotz, Guatemala. The ornately decorated structure is topped ...

Oldest Mesoamerican pyramid tomb found in Mexico

May 18, 2010

(AP) -- Archaeologists in southern Mexico announced Monday they have discovered a 2,700-year-old tomb of a dignitary inside a pyramid that may be the oldest such burial documented in Mesoamerica.

Recommended for you

Radar search to find lost Aboriginal burial site

Jul 22, 2014

Scientists said Tuesday they hope that radar technology will help them find a century-old Aboriginal burial ground on an Australian island, bringing some closure to the local indigenous population.

Archaeologists excavate NY Colonial battleground

Jul 19, 2014

Archaeologists are excavating an 18th-century battleground in upstate New York that was the site of a desperate stand by Colonial American troops, the flashpoint of an infamous massacre and the location of the era's largest ...

User comments : 5

Adjust slider to filter visible comments by rank

Display comments: newest first

ScooterG
1.9 / 5 (9) Oct 03, 2012
Grave robbing in the name of science. FFS, let the dead rest in peace.
Sean_W
3 / 5 (8) Oct 03, 2012
She was the military governor of the Wak kingdom for her family


Sounds like a fairly egalitarian society. And yet bloody as hell. So much for feminist theory of war.
Neurons_At_Work
5 / 5 (1) Oct 04, 2012
Now that they've finally found K'abel, they are eagerly following the path of the Holy Black Snake in search of her lord and mate, the great King M'odem. May they be forever linked together under the D'ata God of Komm, K'ox.
Torbjorn_Larsson_OM
5 / 5 (2) Oct 04, 2012
A kick-ass queen, cool!

Grave robbing in the name of science. FFS, let the dead rest in peace.


Science in the name of science. The dead are simply dead, and if no one living makes claims on the burial site it is legit. A "grave" is something kept (and often religious, see communal secular burial sites.)

@ NAW:

K'ox are the older gods. K'abel would be laid to rest with O'ptyx.
RichPea
not rated yet Oct 11, 2012
wait... optics (o'ptyx), cable (k'abel), modem (m'odem), data (d'ata)... anyone else notice the similarity of the names to our modern words?