Plundering Mayan Tombs (for inspiration)

All following excerpts are taken from:

Deep within, in a large chamber hollowed from bedrock, lay Burial 10, a grave of extraordinary richness and diversity. The king’s corpse was laid on a wooden bier, surrounded by the bodies of no fewer than nine sacrifices youths. Offerings included a spectacular assemblage of pottery vessels, many decorated with Mexican deities and motifs. One of these bears the legend « the drinking vessel of the son of Spearthrower Owl ». There was also a ceramic effigy of an old trident-eyed god, who sits on a stool of bound human longbones. In one corner lay five turtle carapaces of increasing size, three still arranged on a rack in the form of an ancient marimba (a percussion instrument much like a xylophone). A small jade ornament carved into the head of a curl-snouted caiman provides a further link with Yax Nuun Ayiin, as does the offering of a headless caiman laid next to the body.

Canaa or « Sky Place » is the largest structure at Caracol. Its form echoes a Preclassic model, a platform crowned by three pyramids arranged around a central court. Their sequential phases conceal a number of wealthy, though unidentified, tombs. Other parts of the complex clearly served residential, administrative or religious functions.

In 1997, excavations deep within the mighty Structure 2 uncovered a buried temple, now called 2B-sub. Beneath its floor was found the lavishly provisioned Tomb 4. It contained the skeleton of a man shrouded in textiles and jaguar skin, both partially preserved by an applied resin. Among the offerings were a jade mosaic mask; a pair of heirloom Early Classic jade ear ornaments; beads fashioned from bone, mother of pearl and spondylus shells; collections of spiny oyster shells; obsidian « eccentrics »; and the fragmented remains of lacquered wooden objects. There were a number of fine ceramic vessels – one in codex style – originally wrapped in loose-weave cloth. The most outstanding of these was a plate with an image of huunal, the so-called « Jester God », a divine patron of kingship.

A jaguar cushion atop a reed effigy caiman forms his throne, roofed by a canopy representing the sky and crowned by the great celestial bird, the avian aspect of the god Itzamnaaj. The seat itself was reached by a ladder, draped with a cloth marked by the king’s bloody footprints, the contribution of a sacrificial slain at its base.

A depression in the courtyard facing Structure J-5, high in the West Acropolis, alerted archaeologists to the presence of a collapsed chamber beneath. Excavation revealed a vaulted tomb, Burial 5, the richest yet found at the city. It contained the body of a mature male accompanied by two juveniles. The lord’s skull has been deliberately flattened during childhood (to produce the sloping forehead associated with the Maize God), but a better sign of his high status are the inlays of jade and pyrites drilled into 15 of his front teeth. Among the grave goods was a large quantity of jade, including finely worked bead necklaces and a figurine placed in his mouth. A hematite mirror – with 85 of its mosaic platelets still in place – was found set at an angle, positioned to reflect the king’s image in death as it did in life.

In 1949, the great Mexican archaeologist Alberto Ruz Lhuillier was restoring the inner sanctuary of the Temple of Inscriptions when he noticed that on of the great slabs of its floor had an arrangement of 12 stone-plugged holes. The plugs were removed and the holes used (as they had been intended) to lift the slab, revealing a rubble-packed shaft. This proved to be the mouth of a stairway leading deep into the heart of the pyramid. After four seasons of effort digging out the compacted fill, excavators had followed the steps 80 ft (25m) down, negotiated a change of direction, and come to a short corridor. At its end was a stone box containing the disarticulated skeletons of five or six individuals and, to its left, a triangular stone door. The sealed doorway was first penetrated on 13 June 1952, when an intrusive flashlight revealed a sight that still has no equal in the Maya world.

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