How a 'Jester god' revealed oldest Mayan royal tomb

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The image of a "Jester god," a symbol of royalty among the ancient Maya, may have done just the trick. Some archaeologists suggest its discovery has helped identify the oldest known burial site for a Maya ruler.

The ancient Maya filled Central America with pyramid-dotted cities prior to a drawn-out abandonment of such sites around 850 A.D., one of archaeology's most storied mysteries. The unexpected find from the archaeological site of K'o (Kuh-OH) in modern-day Guatemala, reported here at the Society for American Archaeology meeting, pushes the first known Maya ruler, or "Ajaw," back two centuries to around 350 B.C.

Arrayed around the body of a man, likely in his 50's and seemingly in good health at the time of his death (aside from some arthritis and a few cavities in his teeth), were seven ceramic vessels, jars and plates. Most intriguing was a black incense burner, depicting a man wearing a distinctive headdress, marked by a trefoil shape on its forehead like the tassel of a jester's cap. This Maya jester god headdress is widely known among scholars as one of the earliest symbols of Maya rulership, seen in murals and carvings of kings from 100 B.C. or so, onwards.

Until now, the earliest known royal burial of a Maya ruler was from a site called San Bartolo unearthed in 2005, and dated to 100 B.C. Similarly, this burial also was found under a home, not buried inside a pyramid temple as with later Maya rulers....

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