<p><strong>One of three stacked tombs newly discovered within a pyramid, this vividly painted chamber is unique among ancient Zapotec funerary architecture, <a href="http://travel.nationalgeographic.com/travel/countries/mexico-guide/">Mexican</a> archaeologists announced in late July.</strong></p><p>Dating from about A.D. 650 to 850, the funerary complex was part of an elite neighborhood of the Zapotec, an agrarian culture that once thrived &nbsp;throughout what's now the southern Mexican state of <a href="http://maps.nationalgeographic.com/map-machine#s=r&amp;c=16.899171994430827,%20-95.55358886718751&amp;z=7">Oaxaca (map)</a>. </p><p>"Painted motifs in funerary contexts are quite usual in this culture," excavation director <a href="http://www.inah.gob.mx/index.php/boletines/9-declaratorias/4615-nelly-robles-nueva-directora-del-centro-inah-oaxaca">Nelly Robles García</a> said. "But at other sites they show important people: priests, warriors, and rulers—most likely the deceased."</p><p>No humans appear here. Instead, the designs seem to refer to the sacred ritual ball game played by many pre-Hispanic peoples in Mesoamerica. A bit like soccer combined with basketball, the game involved hitting a hard rubber ball around a court, and sometimes ended in sacrificial death for the losers.</p><p>(Related: <a href="http://news.nationalgeographic.com/news/2009/03/090309-zapotec-missions.html">"Zapotec Digs in Mexico Show Clues to Rise and Fall."</a>)</p><p>—<em>A.R. Williams</em></p>

"No Humans Here"

One of three stacked tombs newly discovered within a pyramid, this vividly painted chamber is unique among ancient Zapotec funerary architecture, Mexican archaeologists announced in late July.

Dating from about A.D. 650 to 850, the funerary complex was part of an elite neighborhood of the Zapotec, an agrarian culture that once thrived  throughout what's now the southern Mexican state of Oaxaca (map).

"Painted motifs in funerary contexts are quite usual in this culture," excavation director Nelly Robles García said. "But at other sites they show important people: priests, warriors, and rulers—most likely the deceased."

No humans appear here. Instead, the designs seem to refer to the sacred ritual ball game played by many pre-Hispanic peoples in Mesoamerica. A bit like soccer combined with basketball, the game involved hitting a hard rubber ball around a court, and sometimes ended in sacrificial death for the losers.

(Related: "Zapotec Digs in Mexico Show Clues to Rise and Fall.")

A.R. Williams

Photograph courtesy Héctor Montaño, INAH

Pictures: New Pyramid Found With Vivid Murals, Stacked Tombs

With tombs stacked three high—including one with vibrant murals—a newfound pyramid in Mexico is a rarity of the ancient Zapotec culture.

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