Mexican archaeologists discovered the tomb of a person who may have led a region in what is now the southern state of Oaxaca approximately 1,300 years ago, the National Institute of Anthropology and History said.
In the Copalita Main Temple site, experts detected a tomb made of stone blocks and measuring 1.8 meters (5.9 feet) tall and one meter wide containing the bones of a possibly male individual between the ages of 20 and 23.
Project leader Raul Matadamas said the tomb dates back to A.D. 700 and is the first to be discovered at the site. Although its cultural affiliation has not yet been determined, the tomb could be associated with groups that were in contact with Zapotec Indians from Oaxaca's central valleys, he added.
The skeleton was accompanied by an offering, including a thigh bone that may have been used as a walking stick, the project leader said.
"This discovery will help us understand the funerary practices of the civilizations that occupied Copalita, mainly of the governing group, of which we had no information before," Matadamas said.
The individual, he said, was wearing a necklace with five jade beads and over his rib cage there were remnants of three small bags, which when put on his chest must have contained red paint because some of his ribs are stained that color.
"Around the tomb we also discovered the burial places of 22 other individuals, most notably a female who was face down, the first time such a position has been found at a pre-Columbian site, which perhaps indicates submission to the individual in the tomb," Matadamas said.
He said four vessels were found on the female skeleton, most remarkably an earthenware dish decorated with an embossed glyph of a an owl amid two snakes, an image found all around the pottery piece and which is associated with the ancient Zapotecs of Oaxaca's central valleys.
Further exploration in the vicinity of the Main Temple led to the discovery of another 16 skeletal remains. "They correspond to a previous period since, based on the ceramic materials accompanying them, the individuals were buried between A.D. 300 and 700," Matadamas said.
Copalita was occupied by various cultural groups between 600 B.C. and A.D. 1519, when Spanish chroniclers say the site was abandoned due to an epidemic.