Archaeologists with the University of Southern California (USC) have discovered a burial chamber in the Five Temples section of El Zotz, an ancient Maya city lying in ruins in Guatemala’s Maya Biosphere Reserve. Within the tomb, researchers uncovered the name of a king: Bakab K’inish – “The sun god who is first in the land”. 

A press release from USC reports that the discovery was made by an archaeological team led by Tom Garrison, an assistant professor at USC who has been the principal investigator running excavations at the archaeological site of El Zotz, a secluded Maya ruin featuring pyramids, temples, plazas, a ball court and a famous acropolis known as El Diablo.

The archaeological team was following the trail of a Maya queen, but instead they uncovered the burial chamber of a Maya king.

El Zotz, once known as Pa’chan, meaning “Fortified Sky”, is a remarkable site that was occupied from the Preclassic to the Early Postclassic period of Maya civilization. Spreading out over almost two square kilometers, the site includes a massive royal palace and temple on a hill looking over smaller dwellings and temples in the valley below. 

Situated in the shadows of its tremendous and powerful neighbour – the major center of Tikal – El Zotz would have struggled to maintain its independence. Naturally, hostile relations between El Zotz and its huge neighbour Tikal are highlighted by territorial divisions between the two polities and a hieroglyphic inscription describing El Zotz as being the target of an attack by Tikal.

Nevertheless, El Zotz seems to have served as a forward stronghold of powers aligned with Tikal’s enemy, the power center of Calakmul, and a royal court was relocated to El Zotz in the 6 th century AD during a time of weakness at Tikal. El Zotz has therefore proven to be “a source of information for archaeologists, helping them to piece together an understanding of the region’s changing political dynamics, and by extension, the Maya people”, writes USC. 

Here is the map of Lake Petén Itzá, showing the location of El Zotz to the north, next to the famous site of Tikal:


The latest discovery at El Zotz was made by mistake when Guatemalan archaeologist Jose Luis Garrido was cleaning off a low platform when it crumbled, revealing a small opening leading to an underground tunnel. The research team quickly excavated inside, leading to the discovery of a royal burial chamber. 

Unfortunately, the tomb had been invaded by rats, which had consumed any organic remains, including human remains. However, the researchers discovered four beautiful polychrome bowls, one of which bore the name of a king: Bakab K’inich – “The sun god who is first in the land.”

Four polychrome bowls were found inside the burial chamber, one bearing the name of a Maya king. (via