Feature

The 'stunning' peek inside an ancient Mayan tomb

With the help of a video camera, researchers plunge deep into a very old, very well-preserved burial chamber

The video: Archaeologists have been granted a rare glimpse inside an ancient Mayan tomb that hasn't been opened for 1,500 years. The jungle-covered pyramid that contains the tomb, which was discovered in 1999, is too fragile to break into, so in April researchers lowered a two-inch-long, remote-controlled camera 16 feet into it. The video, released last week, reveals a "stunning" funeral chamber for an early ruler of the once-great city-state of Palenque, in southern Mexico. There are offerings still on the floor, and remnants of a funerary shroud made of jade and mother of pearl (Watch some of the video below). The room has blood red walls covered in black drawings. Archaelogists couldn't see a sarcophagus, but they say the bones might be lying directly on the stone floor, which is littered with chunks of crumbling walls. The tomb probably dates to between 431 and 550 A.D., and might contain the remains of K'uk' Bahlam I, the first ruler of the city-state.

The reaction: "This is an important find," Susan Gillespie, associate professor of anthropology at the University of Florida, told the Daily Mail. It sheds new light on early Mayan rulers, says archaeologist Martha Cuevas, as quoted by the Associated Press. Since later rulers often built on top of older pyramids, tombs like these are rarely accessible. Indeed, this discovery will help researchers better understand the Mayan people and the ruler buried within, writes Nick Carbone at TIME. But "hopefully they can do it before the Mayans' prediction of the end of the world in 2012." Check out the tomb for yourself:

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