These Mayan jawbones are centuries old, and demonstrate the venerable tradition of tooth bling (in this case, jade and iron pyrite). But they're also part of a strange tale of international bone theft.
It's long been known that the ancient Mayan ruling classes drilled holes in their teeth and put jewels in them. This was a popular practice at the height of the highly-advanced Mayan Empire, which lasted over a millennium before 900 AD, when it abruptly lost control over vast portions of Mexico, Belize, Guatemala, and Honduras.
These jawbones, which scientists have identified as being from two individuals, showed up in a small box delivered to the Honduran Embassy in the Netherlands last week. Local authorities speculated that the bones had been stolen in Honduras after researchers at Leiden University ran an analysis on them.
According to the Latin American Herald Tribune:
After the bones were received at the embassy in the Netherlands, the government of that European country requested that they be examined at Leiden University to determine their origin and to document the dental adornment, the Honduran foreign relations secretariat said.
It added that the pieces were studied using strontium isotope analysis, which showed that the ratio of strontium in the tooth enamel was consistent with that found in the water of Honduras' Copan River.
The tests determined that the individuals to whom the remains belonged were from an area of western Honduras now known as the Copan ruins, the Central American country's most important archaeological site.
The bones were delivered anonymously to the embassy, and nobody has any idea who did it. Perhaps a Dutch collector who felt they should go to their country of origin? A guilt-wracked member of an international ring of archaeologist pirates?
Regardless of who it was, the bones have now been returned to Honduras, where they will remain at a research institute.
SOURCE: Latin American Herald Tribune
Photo by Orlando Sierra/AFP/Getty Images.