Archaeology Magazine Archive

A publication of the Archaeological Institute of America

Special Introductory Offer!
Copán Tomb Looted Volume 51 Number 3, May/June 1998
by Angela M.H. Schuster

The 1,500-year-old tomb of a queen at the ancient Maya city of Copán in western Honduras was looted this past February, according to University of Pennsylvania Museum archaeologists. Discovered in 1993 (see "Who's Buried in Margarita's Tomb?" July/August 1996), the tomb is one of the richest ever found in the Maya world, and is believed to be that of the wife of Yax K'uk Mo' (Blue Green Quetzal Macaw), who founded the Copán dynasty in A.D. 436.

"Fortunately, most of the artifacts had already been removed to a conservation laboratory," says the museum's Robert Sharer. "However, the thieves did abscond with at least five carved jades, all of which had been photographed in situ." "The looters appear to have been familiar with the pyramid's tunnel system," adds Jeremy A. Sabloff, director of the University Museum.

The looting at Copán comes on the heels of a wave of site destruction in the area. The Petén region of Guatemala has seen a significant increase in site destruction in the past year (see "Plundering the Petén," September/October 1997), due not only to looting but to squatters at 13 sites representing some 475 families, many of whom are Guatemalan refugees returning from Mexico in the wake of a December 1996 peace accord signed by the Guatemalan government and guerrilla forces. Some 70 families have moved into the site of Dos Pilas, clearing away monuments and cutting down trees to make room for crops.

In response to the destruction, Guatemalan vice-president Luis Flores Asturias assigned 100 additional guards to the area, bringing the total to 152. The government also pledged 800 more policemen to protect sites and national parks. Juan Antonio Valdez, director of Guatemala's Instituto de Antropología e Historia, has demanded the installation of army posts at threatened sites, but the government is hesitant to take such measures, believing they will be perceived by locals as a military offensive.

© 1998 by the Archaeological Institute of America