Looting of a Museum Dig at Copán

An important ancient Maya tomb discovered at Copán, Honduras, by University of Pennsylvania Museum archaeologists in 1993 was looted during the night of February 27. Persons unknown cut open several locked doors to enter a tunnel system that archaeologists had developed to investigate the layered history of the site. The looted tomb, beneath the tallest temple pyramid of the Royal Copán Acropolis, has been dated c. AD 400-500 and is believed to have been that of the wife of Copán dynastic founder Yax K'uk' Mo'.

Fortunately, most of the tomb artifacts had already been documented and removed to secured project laboratories, according to Dr. Robert Sharer, the Museum's American Section Curator and Project Director of the Early Copán Acropolis Program (ECAP); but some remaining artifacts, including about five carved jades, were taken.

A police investigation is underway. In the meantime, the Penn archaeologists, including Lynn Grant, University of Pennsylvania Museum Conservator, and Ellen Bell, University of Pennsylvania Department of Anthropology graduate student, are working to preserve the information and artifacts left in the wake of the burglary. The project's Field Director is David W. Sedat, a research specialist in the American Section of the Museum. "Looting at an archaeological site is always a great loss, for the archaeologists and for all those who want to learn more about our collective human history," said Dr. Jeremy A. Sabloff, the Charles K. Williams Director of the University of Pennsylvania Museum. "We're grateful that much of the tomb material had already been removed by archaeologists before the theft, and we're hopeful that the police investigation will come to a successful and speedy conclusion."

Almanac, Vol. 44, No. 27, March 31, 1998