Jade mask discovered in pyramid tomb of Maya King

Archaeologists have discovered an intact jade mask in the tomb of a Maya King at Chochkitam, a little-known Maya polity in northeastern Peten, Guatemala.

Contemporary inscriptions indicate that Chochkitam was a royal city with a lineage traced back to Preclassic times. The site was first reported in 1909, with ongoing studies recording three main monumental groups connected by a long central causeway.

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In a recent announcement on National Geographic, excavations at Chochkitam have led to the discovery of an interlocking jade mask in the burial of a Maya King. Jade masks were generally used to symbolise deities or ancestors, and were used to reflect the affluence and influence of the entombed individuals.

Following a LiDAR survey in 2021, archaeologist found that grave robbers had dug a tunnel into the central structure of a royal pyramid. Upon further inspection, the researchers noted that the intruders overlooked a specific area within the pyramid’s inner chamber.

This oversight led to the discovery of a human skull, several teeth and bone pieces, a stone box shaped like a coffin, and funerary offerings consisting of a pot, oyster shells, and numerous pieces of jade that interlock to form a jade mask when assembled.

Some of the bone pieces have carvings and hieroglyphs that spell the name, Itzam Kokaj Bahlam, which according to the researchers could be the name of the interred Maya king who ruled Chochkitam around AD 350. Most interestingly, one of the bones has a carving that depicts the ruler holding the head of a Maya deity – an exact representation of the assembled jade mask.

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Estrada-Belli, a professor at Tulane University told National Geographic: “Everything suggests to me that this was a Maya king who was part of a network of Maya royalty in the sphere of influence of Tikal and Teotihuacán”


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Mark Milligan
Mark Milligan
Mark Milligan is multi-award-winning journalist and the Managing Editor at HeritageDaily. His background is in archaeology and computer science, having written over 8,000 articles across several online publications. Mark is a member of the Association of British Science Writers (ABSW), the World Federation of Science Journalists, and in 2023 was the recipient of the British Citizen Award for Education, the BCA Medal of Honour, and the UK Prime Minister's Points of Light Award.

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