Last updated at 5:17 PM on 5th April 2011
Archaeologists have found the oldest known tomb of an ancient Mayan ruler dating back to 350BC.
A buried incense burner engraved with the image of a 'Jester god', a symbol of royalty among the Mayans, was discovered lying next to the skeleton, confirming the remains belonged to royalty.
Found in a tomb underneath a wealthy home in Holmul in north-eastern Guatemala, the skeleton is thought to have been a man in his fifties who was in reasonably good health at the time of his death.
Finally uncovered: Archaeologists have found the oldest known tomb of an ancient Mayan ruler dating back to 350BC in Guatemala
'We have older Maya burials, but don't have ones with grave goods that include a royal symbol,' John Tomasic, of the University of Kansas, told USA Today.
'We excavated the floor of the building and just dug down until we found a lid.'
Under the lid archaeologists discovered a tunnel with a width of about 16 inches that was 'just wide enough for a human body'.
This, in turn, led into a storage chamber called a 'chultan' where the burial had taken place.
'We crawled in and shined a light and saw the body,' Mr Tomasic said.
'I think it is fair to say what we have found is the oldest known burial of a Maya ruler. And we have found the earliest depiction of a jester god headdress.'
Alongside the remains were seven ceramic vessels, jars and plates - and the incense burner engraved with a Jester god (centre)
Presenting the team's results at a Society for American Archaeology meeting in Sacramento, California, yesterday, he said the pots clearly came from the era circa 350BC, the period when Maya ceramics started to adopt a red colour.
A bone sample was sent to a laboratory for radiocarbon dating where scientists confirmed it to be the same age.
In the detail: What an engraving of a Jester god looks like
The team expects to find more royal Mayan burials as they excavate under more homes in the area.
Previously the earliest known burial of an ancient Mayan ruler dated from 100BC. Those remains were found in San Bartolo in 2005.
The tomb was found at the Maya site of K'o in what is now Homul in Guatemala