It’s been a big year for Mayan archaeology. An undecipherable Mayan codex was confirmed to be the oldest-known written text found in the Americas, while a new set of unexplained secret water tunnels was found hidden beneath a pyramid in Mexico’s Mayan ruin site of Palenque. In August 2016, archaeologists unearthed a massive new Mayan burial temple near Belize. The sheer size and detail of the temple implies that the remains interred within must have belonged to extremely important individuals, perhaps royalty. Archeologists speculated that this temple shows that the mysterious Mayan “Snake dynasty” might have been much larger and farther-reaching than archaeologists have previously speculated.
However, a new discovery in Guatemala shows just how little we know about this mysterious dynasty and is claimed to have the potential to rewrite not only current theories about the Snake Dynasty, but all of Mayan history.
The discovery was made by researchers working with the Boston University Homul Archaeological Project who have been excavating Mayan sites throughout Guatemala since 2000. The tombs were discovered near the ancient ruins of Holmul, 500 km (~300 miles) north of Guatemala City, and are estimated to date to around 700AD. Somehow, these pre-Columbian tombs have escaped the ravages of looters, profit-seeking treasure hunters, and vandals for well over 1300 years.
These massive new underground tombs were found using new ground-penetrating laser technology. In what must be every archaeologist’s dream, the teams excavating the sites are said to be the first people to see inside these mysterious ruins in over 1000 years. According to Boston University archaeologist Francisco Estrada-Belli, the new finding is only the “tip of the iceberg” and has the potential to completely change our understanding of the mysterious Mayan civilization:
We’re going to have to rewrite all the books of Maya history and the complexity of Maya civilization, culture. Right now we have 1%, in spite of 100 years’ research.
Several elaborate pieces of jewelry have already been discovered and are thought to be spoils of war captured in fighting between rival dynasties. Analysis of the temple and the artifacts within are still underway, but archaeologists are already speculating that the find implies a much richer history of dynastic conflict and Mayan civil wars than is currently known.