for National Geographic News
Fabric fragments excavated from the tomb of an ancient Maya queen rival modern textiles in their complexity and quality, scientists say.
The tomb was discovered in the Maya city of Copán in Honduras by a team led by archaeologist Robert Sharer of the University of Pennsylvania.
Researchers believe the queen, whose name is not known, was buried in the fifth century A.D.
Some of the fabrics found within her tomb have thread counts of over 80 weft yarns per inch, said Margaret Ordonez, a textile expert at the University of Rhode Island who studied the cloth.
"This is in the range of the clothing that we wear," she said. "This is a higher thread count than your jeans."
Some of the fragments contained as many as 25 layers of fabric, stacked atop one another and fused together over time.
"What's surprising is the fragments still exist," Ordonez said.
"We're talking about a humid climate, and to have fragments of fabric exist in the tomb for that long is just amazing."
Archaeologists suspect that the tomb was opened after the queen's death to allow worshipers to perform rituals and make offerings of fabric and other items.
"It was fairly common that there was a ritual conducted, especially for royalty," Sharer, the archaeologist, said.
How Did the Maya Weave?
The fabrics were made of various plant materials, including cotton, grasses, leaves, and tree bark.
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