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Maya dismembered enemies

Archaeologists Make Grisly Find in Historical Maya City


A team of researchers have made a gruesome discovery in a man-made cave in the ancient Maya city of Uxul in Campeche (Mexico).  Scientists from the Department of Anthropology of the Americas at the University of Bonn stumbled upon a mass grave in which the victims buried there had been decapitated and dismembered.

A total of 24 skeletons ranging in age from 18 to 42 were recovered in the 32 square meter artificial cave that had formerly been used as a water reservoir. They have been dated to be around 1,400-years-old.

"Aside from the large number of interred individuals, it already became apparent during the excavation that the skeletons were no longer in their original anatomical articulation," says the archaeologist Nicolaus Seefeld, who studied the sophisticated water supply system of Uxul for his doctoral thesis and discovered the mass grave.

All of the remains showed signs of a violent death – skulls were scattered around the cave with the majority of lower jaws separated from the heads. Legs and hands had also been removed, and many showed hatchet marks on the cervical vertebra, which is an indication of decapitation. In addition, numerous skulls show signs of cutting with sharp objects, which might originate from stone hatchets.

While the last hours of these unfortunate individuals have been determined, what has not yet been solved is who they were and why there were so mercilessly slaughtered. 

One clue may lie in a tooth analysis which revealed that some of the dead had tooth inserts of jade. Scientists interpret this as a sign of high social status. However, the archaeologists of the University of Bonn don't yet know whether they were prisoners of war from another Maya city that were sacrificed in Uxul or nobles from Uxul itself. An isotope analysis is currently underway to determine whether the dead were members of the local population or if they originated from another region.

The discovery proves that the dismemberment of prisoners of war and opponents, which is a frequent theme depicted in Maya art, was in fact a reality.

By April Holloway

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April Holloway is a Co-Owner, Editor and Writer of Ancient Origins. For privacy reasons, she has previously written on Ancient Origins under the pen name April Holloway, but is now choosing to use her real name, Joanna Gillan.

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