GUATEMALA CITY -- Archaeologists announced Thursday they have uncovered the tomb of a very early Mayan ruler, complete with rich jade jewelry and decoration.
Experts said the find at Guatemala's Tak'alik Ab'aj temple site could help shed light on the formative years of the Mayan culture.
Government archaeologist Miguel Orrego said carbon-dating indicates the tomb was built between 700 and 400 B.C., several hundred years before the Mayan culture reached its height. He said it was the oldest tomb found so far at Tak'alik Ab'aj, a site in southern Guatemala that dates back about 2,200 years.
Orrego said a necklace depicting a vulture-headed human figure appeared to identify the tomb's occupant as an "ajaw," or ruler.
"This symbol gives this burial greater importance," Orrego said. "This glyph says he ... is one of the earliest rulers of Tak'alik Ab'aj."
No bones were found during the excavation of the tomb in September, probably because they had decayed.
Experts said the rich array of jade articles in the tomb could provide clues about production and trade patterns.
Susan Gillespie, an archaeologist at the University of Florida who was not involved in the excavation, said older tombs have been found from ruling circles at the Mayan site of Copan in Honduras as well as in southern Mexico, where the Olmec culture, a predecessor to the Mayas, flourished.
Olmec influences are present in the area around Tak'alik Ab'aj, indicating possible links.
Gillespie said that because it is near a jadeite production center, the find could shed light on early techniques and trade in the stone, which was considered by the Maya to have sacred properties.