German Archaeologists Unearth Tomb of Mayan Prince at Uxul

A team of archaeologists from the University of Bonn, Germany, has discovered a tomb of a young prince at the ancient Mayan city of Uxul.

A cup from the prince’s tomb (Archaeological project Uxul / University of Bonn)

The team has been digging for four years together with Mexican antiquity authorities at Uxul in present-day Campeche, Mexico. The aim of the excavation project led by Prof Nikolai Grube and Dr Kai Delvendahl is to study the process of centralization and collapse of hegemonic state structures in the Mayan Lowlands using the example of the mid-sized archeological site at Uxul and its ties to the supraregional center at Calakmul.

Since 2011, the team has concentrated on the royal palace of Uxul which is located directly south of the main squares in the center of the ancient city. The royal palace, measuring about 120 x 130 meters, consists of at least eleven individual buildings which all are aligned around five courtyards.

“The finished palace complex was built around 650 AD, a time when the neighboring ruling dynasty from Calakmul was in the process of taking over large areas of the Mayan Lowlands,” Prof Grube said.

During excavations in the largest palace building in Uxul, known as ‘structure K2,’ six relief panels were found in 2011 showing four kings from this ruling dynasty from Calakmul playing ball. The archaeologists believe that Uxul, originally a smaller independent kingdom, was inhabited and ruled from time to time by the leaders of the ruling Kaan Dynasty in Calakmul. But the influence subsided after 705 AD, and there is a strong likelihood that a local ruling family came to power for a few generations. At the start of the 9th century, Uxul was almost completely deserted.

“As part of the 2012 excavation campaign a tomb has been unearthed roughly 1.5 meters below the southern rooms of the K2 building that can be dated back to right after the end of the influence of Calakmul and where a prince most likely was buried. Inscriptions on various containers found in the burial tomb chamber point to this fact,” Dr Delvendahl explained.

The walls of the vault are made of brick and were covered with a corbel vault, typical for the Mayan culture. In the interior of this tomb chamber which dates back 1,300 years, the remains of a young man were discovered who was buried on his back. Around him were the remains of lavish burial offerings such as four ceramic plates and five ceramic cups in an exceptionally preserved state, some of which were decorated with spectacular paintings and relieves. A unique plate with the painting in the codex-style was lying on the skull of the deceased.

“There was a simple message on a cup in elegantly modeled hieroglyphics that read: ‘[This is] the cup of the young man /prince’. And a second modeled container also appears to mention a young man/prince,” Prof Grube said.

Although these mentions are not definite clues as to the identity of the deceased, the location of the tomb and the absence of certain burial objects like jade jewelry would indicate his position and nevertheless lead us to conclude that the deceased is a young prince who was not in direct line for the throne.

The date on one of the cups is 711 AD and the death of the young prince as well as the area of his tomb can be dated back to the first decades of the 8th century. In particular, the exceptionally preserved ceramics make this tomb one of the most significant discoveries of its kind in the entire Mayan Lowlands.