The tomb of a high Mayan dignitary was found at the Palenque archaeological site in the southeastern state of Chiapas by Mexican experts using a video camera to explore a place no one had entered or seen for the last 1,500 years, the National Anthropology and History Institute, or INAH, said.

INAH archaeologists explored the Southern Acropolis of Palenque with a video camera, and the shots obtained show human figures drawn in black on red-painted walls, as well as 11 vessels along with pieces of jade and shell that were undoubtedly part of the dignitary's burial raiment, the institute said in a communique.

"The tomb was found in 1999 inside the substructure of Temple 20, but its intricate placement and the work of shoring up the plinth has up to now hindered entry into the area, which jealously guards the mortal remains of a very eminent figure of that ancient Mayan city," INAH said.

The dignitary "lived during the earliest period of the site, between 431 and 550 A.D.," it said.

Archaeologists explored the site by lowering a video camera measuring 4 x 6 centimeters (1 1/2 x 2 1/3 inches) and weighing a scant 94 grams (3 1/3 ounces) to a depth of 5 meters (16 feet).

The institute said that 12 years have passed since archaeologists discovered this crypt, which, unlike similar chambers on the site, does not hold a sarcophagus.

According to the specialists, it is highly probably that the bone fragments of the body lie directly upon the slabs of flooring.

The exploration of the funerary chamber forms part of an interdisciplinary project for the conservation of Temple 20 promoted by INAH and headed by archaeologists Arnoldo Gonzalez and Martha Cuevas.

The characteristics of the funerary chamber suggest, according to Martha Cuevas, that the skeletal remains found there could be those of a sacred ruler of Palenque, probably one of the dynasty's founders.

The skeleton could belong to one of the following leaders: K'uk' Bahlam I, the first ruler of the city; another whose name has not been translated, though some writers have called him Ch'away; Butz' Aj Sak Chiik; Ahkal Mo' Naab' I; K'an Joy Chitam I, or Ahkal Mo' Naab' II, the latter enthroned in 565 A.D.

The archaeologist Cuevas said that while the chamber has not been excavated, judging by the kinds of ceramics and murals found in the context of a burial, Temple 20 was built around 400-550 A.D. and the burial in its tomb took place during the same years of the Early Classic period.