Archaeology news: Teeth and bones reveal Ancient Mayan elite also suffered

Maya: Archaeologists discover Mayan royal palace

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Archaeologists have analysed a set of teeth which once belonged to a high ranking member of the Mayan civilisation which revealed that not everything always went swimmingly for the elite in the ancient Mexican civilisation. A diplomat named Ajpach’ Waal, who was buried 1,300 years ago in Mexico, was born and raised in an elite family.

When Waal grew up, he became a ‘Lakam’ – a standard bearer who was an ambassador to a Mayan community – and helped to negotiate an alliance between two major Mayan dynasties in 726 CE – although this alliance later failed.

But it was not all smooth sailing throughout Waal’s life, despite what the message on his tomb claims.

Excavations of El Palmer, a small plaza in Mexico, revealed hieroglyph-adorned stairs leading to Waal’s tomb which talk about his crowning achievements only, such as the alliance Waal created between the king of Copán, 350 miles away in Honduras, and the king of Calakmul, near El Palmar.

However, analysis from a team of US experts, which examined the ancient man’s teeth and bones, shows that growing up, Waal had it tough.

Both sides of the skull were spongy and porous, which indicated Waal suffered from malnutrition as a youngster – something which was prevalent across the Mayan civilisation, even for the elite.

As he got older, things did not get any easier.

Archaeologists found that his right tibia – or shinbone – had been fractured in his life, most likely in a contact sport, the researchers suggest.

More weight is added to that as depictions of people playing sports were discovered on the stairway walls leading to Waal’s tomb.

Many of his teeth had been lost through gum disease as Waal aged, and he even likely had a painful abscess on his lower right premolar.

Waal also developed arthritis in his hands, right elbow, left knee, left ankle and feet, which would have resulted in a lot of pain.

The research team said Waal would have died aged between 25 and 50 years old.

Waal’s downfall was likely linked to the downturn in fortunes of El Palmer, according to the research published in the journal Latin American Authority.

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Kenichiro Tsukamoto, an assistant professor of anthropology at UC Riverside and lead author of the study, said: “The ruler of a subordinate dynasty decapitated Copán’s king 10 years after his alliance with Calakmul, which was also defeated by a rival dynasty around the same time.

“We see the political and economic instability that followed both these events in the sparse burial and in one of the inlaid teeth.”

Mr Tsukamoto added: “His life is not like we expected based on the hieroglyphics.

“Many people say that the elite enjoyed their lives, but the story is usually more complex.”

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