Oldest known Central American pyramid tomb holds royal burials, jewels

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Washington, May 19 (ANI): Archaeologists have discovered the oldest known Mesoamerican pyramid tomb, around 2,700 years old, in Chiapa de Corzo, Mexico.

The discovery may help settle a debate as to when and how the mysterious Zoque civilization arose, according to excavation leader Bruce Bachand, an archaeologist at Brigham Young University.

"We are trying to distill from the archaeology how the Zoque emerged out of an Olmec ancestral base, and it seems like it happened right around the time this tomb appeared," National Geographic News quoted Bachand as saying.

The pyramid-top tomb had been coated head-to-toe in sacred red pigment. At the center of the tomb, Bachand's team found a male in a pearl-beaded loincloth. To his side lay a companion, likely a female.

On their waists were jade beads shaped like howler monkeys, crocodiles, and gourds. Seashells inlaid with obsidian formed tiny masks for their mouths, which in turn held jade and pyrite ornaments.

Arrayed around the royal corpses were offerings to the gods: ceramic pots, ritual axes perhaps associated with fertility, iron-pyrite mirrors, and a red-painted stucco mask.

"These people were at the top of society, there is no doubt about it," said Bachand.

Researchers believe that prior to the construction of this tomb, Chiapa de Corzo was a large village along a major trade route, likely operated by the Olmec from their capital city, La Venta, on the Gulf Coast.

As Chiapa de Corzo gained wealth and power it began to assert its own identity, Bachand said. The newly discovered tomb, which includes Olmec and Zoque traits, suggests this transition was well underway by 700 B.C

The pyramid, with its long, terraced platform, presages the classic Maya "E group" layout, named after the Group E at the Uaxactún site in Guatemala. Aligned with the sunrise on solstices and equinoxes, E groups appear to have astrological significance.

"So this isn't just any old pyramid," Bachand said. "It appears to be one of the earliest E groups in all of Mesoamerica. That's why we are investigating it.

"And now that we've discovered this early tomb-well heck, no one has discovered a tomb this early in any pyramid, never mind an E group pyramid," he added.

Bachand and his team seem to have found evidence that Chiapa de Corzo was an emerging capital as the Olmec civilization was on its way out - a bluish green jade ceremonial axe, perhaps of Olmec origin, at the base of the pyramid.

In 2008 the team had found a pit full of similar axes-including one with an Olmec design on it-in the plaza next to the pyramid as well as a nearby pit where the axes were manufactured.

The discovery of another axe deep inside the tomb, Bachand added, "is definitely associated with an axe offering of Olmec inspiration." (ANI)

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