Pre-Mayan Remains found in Mexican Cave of Ancestors, Some Showing Cranial Deformation
There is a cave in southern Mexico where the distant past, more recent past, and the present intertwine. It is referred to as the Cave of Ancestors, where locals continue to honor their distant relatives and the site with rituals even today. Mexican archaeologists have found several sets of human remains in the ancient cave, the oldest dating as far back as 7,000 years ago!
The Cave of Ancestors is 75 meters (246.06 feet) long and has a spiral shape. Proceso reports that over the years 29 sets of human remains have been found. Apart from the three sets more recently found, most of the skeletal remains have been dated to the Mayan Late Classical Period (600-900 AD).
Of the three oldest, one comes from the Early Pre-Classical Period (2500-1200 BC) and the other two are consider Archaic (8000-2500 AD), according to Lourdes Muñoz Moreno and Teresa Navarro Romero, of the Centro de Investigación y de Estudios Avanzados (Center for Investigation and Advanced Studies/Cinvestav), of the Instituto Politécnico Nacional (National Polytechnic Institute/IPN). Archaeologist Alberto Martos said the oldest of the remains comes from “the period of transition from being hunters to sedentarism.”
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29 sets of human remains have been found in the cave system. (INAH)
Of the 29 sets of remains found to date, 22 are adult, four are children, and three are infants. Experts have said that overall the remains have similar characteristics to individuals found from the same time periods in Guatemala, Cuba, Peru, Bolivia, and Brazil.
However, Luis Alberto Martos, a researcher with Instituto Nacional de Antropología e Historia (National Institute of Anthropology and History/INAH), points out that five of the skulls show signs of cranial deformation; four are slightly slanted and one has an especially strong elongation, which Martos explains is “very rare to see in the Mayan region.”
Five of the skulls found in the Cave of Ancestors show signs of cranial deformation. (INAH)
María Cristina García Cepeda, secretary of Culture, said that artifacts left as offerings in the Cave of Ancestors include jade, ceramics, shells, and obsidian.
The INAH was alerted to the cave’s archaeological importance in 2004. In 2005 they made their first trip, but it was only a couple of years later when they finally began a systematic exploration of the ten chambers in the cave system. Expeditions have been somewhat difficult due to narrow passageways and seeping mud and water when it rains heavily.
Exploring the Cave of Ancestors in Puyil has been a difficult task. (INAH)
Martos gave a concise overview of how the cave was used in the past, saying:
“There were different groups during this time that used the caves, clearly it wasn't a domestic cave. In prehistoric times it was probably used for rituals and cemeteries so as to dispose of remains of people. For the Maya, it was a cave of ancestors. This cave was used by the Maya, they respected the remains that were already there and left their own remains inside.”
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Today, the Cave of Ancestors is still visited by locals a few days after May 3rd if the region is experiencing drought. They still leave offerings asking for the rains to come, but today those offerings come in the form of candles, food, and alcohol. As one archaeologist explained, the site “is still alive.”
Milenio reports the Museo Nacional de Antropología (National Anthropology Museum) has a one month exposition with the skeletal remains, artifacts, and an explanation of expeditions to and research surrounding the Cave of Ancestors.
Skulls found in the Cave of Ancestors in Puyil, Tacotalpa, Tabasco, Mexico. (INAH)
Top Image: Some of the skulls found in the Cave of Ancestors in Puyil, Tacotalpa, Tabasco, Mexico. Source: INAH