Mutilated human remains found in ancient Maya burial site
Grisly discovery is consistent with violent imagery found in ancient Maya art
In a grisly archaeological find, the remains of dismembered human bodies have recently been uncovered in an artificial cave in the Classic Maya city Uxul in Mexico. Scientists from the University of Bonn discovered several skulls, lower jaws and ribs. Researchers say that the dismembered, decapitated bodies are consistent with the violent scenes depicted in ancient Maya art.
Many of the remains were apparently decapitated, as skulls were scattered about the cave, with no relation to the rest of the bodies.
"Right before 24 victims were buried, the cave's interior had doubtlessly still been used [as] a water reservoir, since the cave's floor was perfectly clean," Nicolaus Seefeld, an archaeologist at the University of Bonn in Germany says. Researchers came across the 1,400-year-old mass grave as part of an investigation on the water system in the city of Uxul.
"After the 24 victims had been buried, the pre-Hispanic Maya covered the remains with a coarse layer of gravel and sealed it with a clay layer. Due to this sealing layer, the documented bones were found in an extraordinarily good state of preservation."
Many of the remains were apparently decapitated, as skulls were scattered about the cave, with no relation to the rest of the bodies. Hatchet marks on the neck bones bore out that the victims had their heads violently removed. Most of the lower jaws had been separated from the heads.
Seefeld said he found the remains of a severed leg, feet, hands and arms with the bones still articulated, or connected at the joints. This implies "that victims were killed at the same time, then chopped into several pieces and finally buried in the artificial cave," Seefeld said in an email.
An analysis determined the age and sex of 15 of the dead: Two were women; and all were between 18 and 42 years of age at the time of death. Seefeld and colleagues have formulated two possible scenarios: That the dead were prisoners of war from another city or nobles from within Uxul.
Maya art is replete with scenes of violence, including the capture and sacrifice of captives. Seefeld says that the archaeological evidence for this violence has been limited.
Supporting the idea that the dead in the Uxul mass grave had been nobles, some of the bodies had jade tooth decorations, which the researchers interpreted as a sign of high social status.
Ceramics found in the artificial cave suggests the time period of the seventh century. Evidence suggests that Uxul's nobility lost their titles when the city was incorporated into the Kaan Dynasty, centered at Calakmul, which was 21 miles north of Uxul, raising the possibility these victims were once nobility.
The victims more than likely came from another site, Seefeld writes. To determine which one is the case, the researchers are planning to conduct a chemical analysis on the remains.
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