Print

Specialists from the National Institute of Anthropology and History (INAH) discovered a sarcophagus of more than 1000 years old at the Acropolis of Toniná Archaeological Zone, in Chiapas. The finding might help understanding the collapse of ancient Maya culture, since it corresponds to the same period, between 840 and 900 AD. This entombment, due to its features, has been compared to the Reina Roja (Red Queen) burial uncovered in Palenque.


Inside the sarcophagus a container and a skull that presents fractures and deformation were found, as well as long bones displayed in a cross figure. Experts have expressed that osseous rests could correspond to an individual of Maya affiliation, although they have not been dated.

Archaeologist Juan Yadeun Angulo, in charge of research and conservation at Toniná Archaeological Zone, in Ocosingo municipality, informed that a stone sarcophagus that measures 200 by 70 centimeters, with a depth of 60 was found; on each corner it has supports in the shape of a button. A 15 centimeters thick lid of the same dimensions covered it.

The tomb was discovered during the most recent field season conducted in late 2009. Finding took place when floor leveling works were carried out and an alteration in the 5th Platform of Acropolis was found, which led to archaeological exploration.

“This sarcophagus is unique in ancient Mexico, similar to Reina Roja one, discovered in 1994 in Palenque, due to its size and the lack of inscriptions”.

Parts of the skeleton were found outside the coffin; in life, this person must have been part of the hierarchy, maybe a woman or a minor, since orbital bones are small. Diverse studies, among them physical anthropological ones, will be conducted at INAH Direction of Archaeological Studies to determine age, gender and ethnic affiliation.

Yadeun mentioned that inside the crypt was found a Chib-style globular urn with a lid; it contained human bones that were boiled and fragmented, which date from a different period than those found at the casket.

“Diverse elements of the finding point out to the tomb remaining unaltered for more than 500 years, from 900 AD approximately until 1490, when a Tzeltal chieftainship installed in Toniná. Buildings were occupied again and tombs were looted; Maya objects were extracted and new offerings placed.

“The sepulcher presents alterations; it was opened around 1490-1495 by Tzeltal peoples that removed some original elements, mainly ceramics, placing them around the sarcophagus. Remaining bones were moved to a section and the recipient with boiled bones was placed inside”.

The specialist mentioned that the tomb is dated between 840 and 900 AD, and represents a period that could fill a gap in the time line between the last inscription registered in Toniná in 840 AD, and the Tolteca-influenced writing from 903-910.

This discovery brings in new elements regarding Maya collapse, and may point out “who caused decline, possibly being people from what today is Tabasco, from the High Plateau or influenced by them”.

According to the archaeologist, one of the theories about the fall of Maya seigniories indicates it was due to arrival of High Plateau groups. These Tolteca affiliation faction had corporative character, with huge armies that might have come from Puebla-Tlaxcala region, the Gulf Coast and Oaxaca, all linked to Tula during that period.

“In 840 AD a major transformation occurred in Maya cities: sculptural representations and inscriptions ended, which has been interpreted as a massive abandonment of the settlements.

“This means there was a revolution in the Ancient Mexico after the fall of great dynasties and the rise of warrior groups to power”, concluded Juan Yadeun.