Five of the sacrificed children were found in a multiple burial. (Flory Pinzón) Grave goods, including obsidian, were found in a burial of two more sacrificed children.

Mayan Child Sacrifices with ‘Divine’ Obsidian and Jade Discovered in Guatemala

(Read the article on one page)

The bodies of nine sacrificed children have been found at the Maya site of Ceibal in Guatemala. Some of the children were buried with obsidian tools, a fact which research suggests shows the enhanced significance of the sacrifices in the Maya Middle Preclassic period.

IBTimes UK reports that although Ceibal was first investigated in the 1960s, Archaeologists from the Ceibal-Petexbatun Archaeological Project decided it was time to revisit the archaeological site with more advanced technology . They excavated the site from 2005 to 2017 and their initiative led them to some significant ritual findings.

Excavations at Ceibal

Excavations at Ceibal. ( University of Arizona )

Five of the sacrificed children were found in a multiple burial. Four of them were infants and one was between 3-4 years old upon death. Four of the children were aligned with the cardinal points (important in the Maya cosmos) and the fifth was placed between the southern and western individuals – although there were no artifacts buried with this individual. This was one of the infant burials.

Five of the sacrificed children were found in a multiple burial.

Five of the sacrificed children were found in a multiple burial. ( Flory Pinzón )

Five obsidian artifacts were placed in this multiple burial – one with each of the children at the cardinal points and one in the center. A fragment of a greenstone celt and a jute snail with a hole on one side were buried with the northern child, a jade bead was buried with each of the other three children at the cardinal points, and a blue polishing stone was placed in the center of their combined grave.

Five obsidian artifacts were placed in a multiple burial of five children – one with each of the children at the cardinal points and one in the center.

Five obsidian artifacts were placed in a multiple burial of five children – one with each of the children at the cardinal points and one in the center. ( Takeshi Inomata )

Two other sacrificed children were unearthed in flexed positions with their heads oriented to the north. They were buried facing each other and two obsidian pieces were buried alongside their bodies. These children were between the ages of two to four years old when they died. A ceramic bead and 11 shell beads were also used as grave goods in this burial.

A ceramic bead, shell beads, and two obsidian artifacts found in one of the burials.

A ceramic bead, shell beads, and two obsidian artifacts found in one of the burials. ( Takeshi Inomata )

The researchers report that two more children, between two and four years of age, were buried with “Four exhausted polyhedral obsidian cores—one for each of the inter-cardinal directions: northeast, southeast, southwest, and northwest—with their distal ends pointing to the center.”  Two ceramic vessels, an unfinished jade bead, a small piece of magnetite, and shell beads made up other grave goods in this burial.

Grave goods, including obsidian, found in a burial of two sacrificed children.

Grave goods, including obsidian, found in a burial of two sacrificed children. ( Takeshi Inomata )

Altogether, the researchers found four caches and four burials – for a total of 42 obsidian artifacts – dating to the Middle Preclassic period (700 -350 BC) at the site. Obsidian is a type of volcanic glass that was a rare commodity for the location then. Trade routes were just beginning to form with the highlands at the time. Obsidian was regarded as an exceptionally sharp incision tool and also held a symbolic importance to the Maya. As the researchers explain in their report :

“[…] in the Mesoamerican tradition obsidian has a divine origin, imbuing the material with supernatural power. Because of its symbolic value, obsidian was used in a multitude of Mesoamerican religious rituals. Aside from its symbolic associations, the transformation of a raw material like obsidian into a utilitarian object is often a ritually charged act. In many societies, quotidian activities undertaken in domestic contexts are closely tied to communal rituals.”

Obsidian artifacts excavated at Takalik Abaj, Retalhuleu, Guatemala. Prismatic blades and obsidian cores.

Obsidian artifacts excavated at Takalik Abaj, Retalhuleu, Guatemala. Prismatic blades and obsidian cores. (Simon Burchell/ CC BY SA 3.0 )

It has been suggested that the leaders of these rituals were likely elite members of society and they completed their ceremonies in public.  “The substantial number of these ceremonial deposits in the public plaza, interred at different times, indicates these were recurring public events that would have been important for integrating the community, including those living in and around Ceibal,” the authors write in their report.

The new discovery helps shed light on a time period which is still relatively unknown for Ceibel. The Classic period has been studied quite well, but the Maya practice of repeatedly building on the same site means that times before were often covered over or forgotten as generations built over their predecessors. Thus, the ritual burials discovered at the site can provide new insight on craft production and ceremonial practices in a time that is still largely unknown.

Register to become part of our active community, get updates, receive a monthly newsletter, and enjoy the benefits and rewards of our member point system OR just post your comment below as a Guest.

Myths & Legends

Edgar Cayce (Credit: Edgar Cayce’s Association for Research and Enlightenment, Author provided)
For nearly 30 years I have returned to the famous “Sleeping Prophet” Edgar Cayce’s readings as a road map to try and piece together the complex origins of civilization and the creation of Homo sapiens. Cayce (March 18, 1877 – January 3, 1945) was an American Christian mystic born in Hopkinsville, Kentucky who answered questions on subjects as varied as healing, reincarnation, wars, Atlantis, and future events while in a trance state.

Human Origins

Edgar Cayce (Credit: Edgar Cayce’s Association for Research and Enlightenment, Author provided)
For nearly 30 years I have returned to the famous “Sleeping Prophet” Edgar Cayce’s readings as a road map to try and piece together the complex origins of civilization and the creation of Homo sapiens. Cayce (March 18, 1877 – January 3, 1945) was an American Christian mystic born in Hopkinsville, Kentucky who answered questions on subjects as varied as healing, reincarnation, wars, Atlantis, and future events while in a trance state.

Ancient Technology

Detail of a star chart dating to the Middle Kingdom.
The calendar is one of mankind’s most important inventions. Calendars allowed societies to organize time for religious, social, economic, and administrative purposes. The calendar, or rather, two sets of calendars, were invented by the ancient Egyptians. One of these was a lunar calendar, which was used mainly for the organization of religious festivals.

Ancient Places

Healing Temple of Aesculapius (Asklepios) by Robert Thom
In the ancient world, many cultures built elaborate temple complexes dedicated to their healer gods - Imhotep in Egypt and Asklepios in Greece for example. These gods were recognized as having the power to cure supplicants from a variety of ailments within sleep and sacred dreams. Those who desired healing might travel many hundreds of miles to reach such a temple

Our Mission

At Ancient Origins, we believe that one of the most important fields of knowledge we can pursue as human beings is our beginnings. And while some people may seem content with the story as it stands, our view is that there exists countless mysteries, scientific anomalies and surprising artifacts that have yet to be discovered and explained.

The goal of Ancient Origins is to highlight recent archaeological discoveries, peer-reviewed academic research and evidence, as well as offering alternative viewpoints and explanations of science, archaeology, mythology, religion and history around the globe.

We’re the only Pop Archaeology site combining scientific research with out-of-the-box perspectives.

By bringing together top experts and authors, this archaeology website explores lost civilizations, examines sacred writings, tours ancient places, investigates ancient discoveries and questions mysterious happenings. Our open community is dedicated to digging into the origins of our species on planet earth, and question wherever the discoveries might take us. We seek to retell the story of our beginnings. 

Ancient Image Galleries

View from the Castle Gate (Burgtor). (Public Domain)
Door surrounded by roots of Tetrameles nudiflora in the Khmer temple of Ta Phrom, Angkor temple complex, located today in Cambodia. (CC BY-SA 3.0)
Cable car in the Xihai (West Sea) Grand Canyon (CC BY-SA 4.0)
Next article