|G. Braswell/UC San Diego|
First uncovered back in 2015, researchers have now tentatively translated the inscriptions, and it turns out it's even more unusual than originally thought, and could rewrite our current understanding of Maya history.
This type of T-shaped jade plate was worn on a king's chest during Maya religious ceremonies. At 19 cm (7.4 inches) wide, 10 cm (4.1 inches) high, and 0.8 cm (0.3 inches) thick, this is the second largest Maya jade ever found in Belize.
But it's also the first known to be inscribed with historical text - on the pendant's back, around 30 carved hieroglyphs reveal details about its first owner.
That's odd in itself, but the fact that such a huge and important pendant was discovered where it was is also unusual - the artefact was found in Nim Li Punit in southern Belize, a relatively isolated region at the time.
"It was like finding the Hope Diamond in Peoria instead of New York," said lead researcher Geoffrey Braswell from the University of California, San Diego.
"We would expect something like it in one of the big cities of the Maya world. Instead, here it was, far from the centre."
Nim Li Punit is a small site that sits near the modern-day town of Indian Creek, on a ridge in the Maya Mountains at the southeastern edge of the ancient Maya zone - it's more than 402 km (250 miles) south of Chichen Itza in Mexico, where similar but smaller breast pieces have been found.
It's believed that the village was inhabited by the Maya civilisation between 150 and 850 CE, and researchers have found several important remains in the site since it was rediscovered in the 1970s.
This pendant was discovered in the remains of a palace built around 400 CE, buried inside a collapsed tomb.
The tomb dates back to around 800 CE - towards the end of Maya civilisation in the village - and was surrounded by other artefacts, such as pottery vessels and a large stone that had been carved into the shape of a deity.
|UC San Diego|
You can see the full inscription of 30 glyphs below:
|UC San Diego|
But according to the team's tentative translation so far, the artefact was made for the king Janaab' Ohl K'inich, and was first used in 672 CE as part of an incense-scattering ceremony.
The text then goes on to describe the king's parentage and accession rites - and ends with a passage that links the king to the powerful and immense Maya city of Caracol, which is located to the northeast of Nim Li Punit in modern-day Belize.
"We didn't think we'd find royal, political connections to the north and the west of Nim Li Punit," said Braswell. "We thought if there were any at all that they'd be to the south and east."
Braswell thinks the pendant indicates that royalty arrived at Nim Li Punit around the time the pendant was used, founding a new dynasty.
This hypothesis is backed up by the fact that it's only after the pendant's arrival in the region that other hieroglyphs and images of royalty begin to show up around the site.
Still, this one pendant is far from conclusive evidence, and it's something Braswell and his team will now be investigating further.
There's a lot of research to be done to understand how this jade pendant fits in with Maya history, and what it can tell us about the final years before the fall of Nim Li Punit, but it's a fascinating mystery to explore further.
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