Tomb built by the the Zoque Indians dates to 2,700 years ago

A tomb built by the Zoque Indians in Chiapa de Corzo, in southern Chiapas was discovered on May 17, 2010. Archaeologists in southern Mexico  found a dignitary’s tomb inside a pyramid that may be the oldest type of burial discovered in Mesoamerica. The grave dates from about 2,700 years ago.

Archaeologist Emiliano Gallaga said that based on the layering in which it was found and the tomb’s unique wooden construction, “we think this is one of the earliest discoveries of the use of a pyramid as a tomb, not only as a religious site or temple.

It may be about 1,000 years older than the better-known pyramid tomb of the Mayan ruler Pakal at the Palenque archaeological site, also in Chiapas. Pre-Hispanic cultures built pyramids mainly as representations of the levels leading from the underworld to the sky.

Archaeologists digging into the pyramid mound that April in order to study the internal structure, discovered a wall whose finished stones appeared to face inward. They later uncovered the 13 ft. by 9 ft. tomb chamber about 19 to 22 feet beneath what had been the pyramid’s peak.

The burial site held a stone chamber with a man believed to be about 50 who was buried with jade and amber collars & bracelets, pyrite and obsidian artifacts, along with pearl ornaments and ceramic vessels. His face was covered with a funeral mask with obsidian eyes. The ornaments and some of the 15 ceramic vessels found in the tomb show influences from the Olmec culture, which is considered the “mother culture” of the region.  The body of a 1-year-old child was laid carefully over the man’s body inside the tomb. A 20-year-old male was tossed into the chamber with less care, probably sacrificed at the time of the burial. A woman, also about 50, was discovered in a separate nearby tomb, which contained similar ornaments.

The man’s body is believed to be a high priest or ruler of Chiapa de Corzo, a prominent settlement at the time. Markings in the wall indicate that wooden supports were used to create the tomb, but it collapsed under the weight of the pyramid built above.

This finding has raised the possibility that Olmec pyramids might contain similar tombs of dignitaries, especially at well-known sites such as La Venta. Olmec pyramids have not been excavated, mostly due to the high water table and humidity of their Gulf coast sites not being as conducive to preserving buried human remains. Experts said that despite the Chiapa de Corzo tomb’s location, it is not clear the later Maya culture learned or inherited the practice of pyramid burials from the Zoques or Olmecs.

“While I have no doubt it relates to Olmec, there is no tie to Maya at this time per se,” said archaeologist Lisa Lucero of the University of Illinois, who was not involved in the Chiapa de Corzo project.