UT Arlington archaeologist part of team that discovered oldest Mayan royal tomb

ARLINGTON - A University of Texas at Arlington archaeologist is gaining international recognition for his role in research that revealed the oldest known tomb of an ancient Maya ruler, dating back to about 350 B.C.

Visiting professor Michael Callaghan worked on a team led by research associate John Tomasic of the University of Kansas, who found the burial site in 2008 at K'o, Guatemala.

Archaeologists unearthed the body of a man believed to be in his 50s and in seemingly good health at the time of his death, along with an incense burner that had the image of a jester god headdress on it, vessels, jars and plates.

"One pot had a little crown with a three-pronged headdress on it and that's known to be only associated with kingship," said Callaghan, who analyzed the ceramics. "The work was supported by radiocarbon analysis, which gave us a date of 350 B.C."

Until now, the earliest known royal burial of a Maya ruler was from San Bartolo, Guatemala. It was discovered in 2005 and dated back to 100 B.C. Both burial sites were found beneath homes.

"The famed pyramid builders of Central America had an even longer-lived civilization than suspected by scholars just a few decades ago," Tomasic said. Long before Mayans buried their rulers in temples, they were burying them in their houses, beneath the floors.  

He added: "I think we will find more of these royal burials too, older ones, as we look under more homes."

Callaghan presented the team's research for the first time publicly at the 76th annual meeting of the Society for American Archaeology. The gathering was held earlier this month in Sacramento, Calif.  Since then, news of the research has appeared in USA Today, the London Daily Mail and Tehran's Cultural Heritage News Agency.

In May, Callaghan will return to Guatemala with his wife, Brigitte Kovacevich, an assistant professor of anthropology at Southern Methodist University.

They plan to research more about the Maya civilization, with a focus on how social hierarchies started and why people created social division.

Callaghan called the Mayans fascinating, adding: "Growing up, we learn about Mesopotamia and Egypt, but the Mayans are so different in the way they looked at ideology, their religious focus and art."

The University of Texas at Arlington is a comprehensive research institution of 33,800 students in the heart of North Texas. Visit www.uta.edu to learn more. 


Media contact: Bridget Lewis, Blewis@uta.edu, 817-272-3317

The University of Texas at Arlington, www.uta.edu