The Maya at Chichen Itza were known to practice human sacrifice a thousand years ago. Who they were sacrificing, though, has long been a mystery. A recent isotope analysis of tooth enamel from sacrificial victims
thrown into the city’s Sacred Cenote shows that there was some variety in who was sacrificed. Some grew up locally, while others hailed from the Gulf Coast, the
Central Highlands, and as far away as Central America.
How the mix of individuals were chosen, and how those from further away ended up in Chichen Itza, remains unknown – there is always something more to investigate.
From Jaina Island’s cemetary, where archaeologists have found figurines cradled in the arms of the deceased.
This figurine is special because rather than depicting the deceased as a robust young adult, it shows a proud elderly warrior. He is definitely a warrior because he holds a flexible, rectangular shield in his right hand and wears a quilted armor tunic, both being requisite for Maya warriors during this period.
Earthenware figure, crafted sometime between 550 CE and 850 CE.
After a villager notified authorities about a cave hidden beneath the Maya site of Chichen Itza, archaeologists crawled hundreds of feet through passages that were only 16 inches high in places. In the cave, they encountered hundreds of undisturbed ritual artifacts, including incense burners depicting the rain god Tlaloc.
Here’s the funny part – this was actually the second time this cave was discovered! The cave was first discovered by locals about 50 years ago. At the time, they alerted archaeologist Víctor Segovia Pinto to the find. He ordered the cavern sealed and issued a brief report, which was soon forgotten. Last year, locals once again pointed out the location to archaeologists, and this time they decided to actually investigate it.
This sounds like a bungled opportunity by Pinto but today’s archaeologists say it was a boon. Because everything was left in situ, and they plan to leave the artifacts in the cave now, it will remain an intact time capsule that can be studied with the most modern of techniques. Cutting edge 3-D mapping and paleobotany examinations are in the works. And who knows what scientists will come up with in the future? The current plan is that the cave, intact and preserved, will be waiting to be examined by each new generation of techniques.
Maya rituals may have literally been weighty affairs for high-ranking rulers. During these festivities, elite officials adorned themselves with an assortment of jade pendants, mostly worn on the ears or around the neck. Heavier ones (such as a 5-pound carved head from Ucanal in Guatemala) were likely attached to a belt and would have made customary ritual dancing quite cumbersome.
It is theorized that the weight of the assembled stones, which may have totaled as much as 25 pounds, symbolized a leader’s prestige and responsibilities.
The Maya city of Tulum, once a major trading port on the Yucatan Pensinsula, was still occupied in the 1500s. While the Maya civilization precipitously declined in the 800s CE, a handful of cities survived and even grew when their neighbors shrank and vanished. Tulum was one such city. A Spanish expedition in 1518 sailed past and the crew was said to be astonished by the city’s grandeur, apparently describing it as “a village so large that Seville would not have appeared larger or better.”
Unfortunately, Tulum could survive 600 years after their wider civilization collapsed, but Tulum could not survive 100 years of European contact. It was abandoned by the end of the century after diseases carried from Europe decimated the population.
ANCIENT Maya government was formed on the basis that rulers were thought to have been god-like, which to some might suggest one unified state. However, the consensus amongst anthropologists supports that each major Mayacity remained its own independent and sovereign entity with its own unique struggles for political power. The Maya belief in god-like rulers also made it important to keep the line of power in the family, which would occasionally include a woman ruler.
The various Maya city-states are found in what is today Mexico, Guatemala, El Salvador and Honduras. The civilization extended from circa 1500 BCE to approximately 1500 CE. These years are typically divided into three periods; the Pre-classic, the Classic, and Post-classic. The Pre-classic ranges from approximately 1500 BCE to 250 CE, the Classic from 250 CE to 900 CE, and the Post-classic ranges from 900 CE to 1530 CE.
Archaeologists recently began exploring the Sac Actun cave system on the Yucatan Peninsula. In the course of mapping the 164-mile-long Sac Actun system, they realized it connects to the 51.5-mile-long Dos Ojos system – which was previously thought to be independent – making the combined system the largest underwater cave in the world!
This underwater warren, thought by the Maya people to be the entrance to the underworld, is both a natural wonder and an archaeological wonderland. Mayan artifacts are scattered throughout the cave system. Bones and pottery have been found dating back thousands of years.