Washington: Archaeologists in Guatemala have discovered the tomb of Lady K’abel, a seventh century Maya Holy Snake Lord considered one of the great queens of Classic Maya civilization. The tomb was discovered during excavations of the royal Maya city of El Peru-Waka’ in northwestern Peten, Guatemala, by a team of archaeologists led by Washington
University in St. Louis’ David Freidel, co-director of the expedition.
A small, carved alabaster jar found in the burial chamber caused the archaeologists to
conclude the tomb was that of Lady K’abel. The white jar is carved as a conch shell, with a head and arm of an aged woman emerging from the opening. The depiction
of the woman, mature with a lined face and a strand of hair in front of her ear, and four glyphs carved into the jar, point to the jar as belonging to K’abel.
Based on this and other evidence, including ceramic vessels found in the tomb and stela (large stone slab) carvings on the outside, the tomb is likely that
of K’abel, says Freidel.
According to Freidel, the discovery is significant not only because the tomb is that of a notable historical figure in Maya history, but also because the newly uncovered tomb is a rare situation in which Maya archaeological and historical records meet. “The Classic Maya civilization is the only ‘classical’
archaeological field in the New World — in the sense that like archaeology in Ancient Egypt, Greece, Mesopotamia or China, there is both an archaeological material record and an historical record based on texts and images,” Freidel said.
WUSTL archaeologist David Freidel was part of a team that discovered the tomb of Lady K’abel, a seventh-century Maya Holy Snake Lord considered one of the great
queens of Classic Maya civilization. “The precise nature of the text and image information on the white stone jar and its tomb context constitute a remarkable and rare conjunction of these two kinds of records in the Maya area,” Freidel said.
The discovery of the tomb of the great queen was “serendipitous, to put it mildly,” Freidel says. The team at El Peru-Waka’ has focused on uncovering and studying “ritually-charged” features such as shrines, altars and dedicatory offerings rather than on locating burial locations of particular individuals. “In retrospect, it makes a lot of sense that the people of Waka’ buried her in this particularly prominent place in their city,” Freidel said.
K’abel, considered the greatest ruler of the Late Classic period, ruled with her husband, K’inich Bahlam, for at least 20 years (672-692 AD), Freidel says. She was the military governor of the Wak kingdom for her family, the imperial house of the Snake King, and she carried the title “Kaloomte’,” translated to “Supreme Warrior,” higher in authority than her husband, the king.