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NAU Archaeologists Uncover Ancient Mayan Tomb In Belize

Xunantunich tomb during excavations
(Photo courtesy of Jaime Awe - Northern Arizona University)
Overhead view of the tomb during excavations in Xunantunich, Belize.

An archaeology expedition led by Northern Arizona University has uncovered one of the largest Mayan tombs ever found in Belize. It’s the most significant discovery in more than century of research at the site. 

The dig took place at Xunantunich in western Belize. NAU professor Jaime Awe brought his team of more than 30 students to the site. They uncovered a burial chamber five times as large as a typical Mayan tomb. 

“Most tombs in the Maya world are sort of dug into existing buildings,” Awe said. “Not in this case! In this case, they constructed this tomb and then built the pyramid on top of it.” 

The tomb holds the remains of what appears to be an important Mayan ruler, as well as animal bones and artifacts.

NAU’s Chrissina Burke will be among those studying the findings.

“The skeleton will actually tell us a lot,” Burke said. “We’ll be able to identify their biological sex, stature, weight, health markers, potentially where they came from in terms of where they grew up and the food that they consumed.”

The team also found two rare hieroglyphic panels in the pyramid. They’re nearly 1,400 years old and they reveal information about the alliances and conflicts of ancient Maya.

Melissa grew up in Tucson, Arizona, where she fell in love with the ecology and geology of the Sonoran desert. She has a B.S. in Environmental Science from the University of Arizona and an M.FA. in Creative Writing and Environment from Iowa State University.