Child Sacrifice Victims at Maya ‘Midnight Terror Cave’ Gagged Before Slaughter
Archaeologists studying Belize’s “Midnight Terror Cave” have discovered mysterious blue fibers in the tooth plaque of sacrificed teenagers, which suggests the young sacrifice victims had been gagged.
In 2016, Ancient Origins published a story about “The Midnight Terror Cave”, located south of Belmopan city in the Cayo District of Belize, in Central America. First discovered in 2006, the Midnight Terror Cave has yielded over 10,000 pieces of fragmented bone and nearly 30,000 fragments of clay vessels.
Over the last 15 years, researchers have established that around 120 “sub-adults” were sacrificed in the cave to Chac, the Maya rain god, over 1,000 years ago. Now, the cave is revealing more secrets about its ritualistic past, as archaeologists discovered mysterious blue threads in some of the victims' teeth. This fascinating discovery suggests victims were gagged before being slaughtered, all in a desperate bid for rain.
The interior of the Midnight Terror Cave in Belize, with a person in blue for scale. ( California State University, Los Angeles )
Looting the Midnight Terror Cave
The dramatically titled “ Midnight Terror Cave ” was named by locals in 2006 after an injured looter was rescued from the site. Dr. Jaime Awe, director of the Belizean Institute of Archaeology, offered the dig to archaeologists from California State University , USA. However, what was to be a standard one-season excavation quickly escalated when large-scale modifications to the cave were identified.
Every day, teams of researchers had to descend sixty sets of wooden ladders to access what they called “one of the most complex caves yet reported in the Maya area.” Before the excavation was complete, Discovery Channel’s Bone Detective series featured the cave, a mistake which inspired gangs of looters from a nearby village to raid the cave looking for treasure.
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Archaeologists descended sixty sets of wooden ladders daily to conduct their research on the Maya Midnight Terror Cave ( California State University, Los Angeles )
Bright Blue Fabric around Teeth
Over the last 15 years, archaeologists have pieced together many of the 10,000 plus bone fragments, revealing the brutality which unfolded in the cave’s various chambers. While studying samples of calcified plaque from the victims’ dental calculus, “curious blue fibers” piqued the archaeologists' curiosity.
A new study, published by Professor Amy Chan in the International Journal of Osteoarchaeology , said that she became “interested in determining what foodstuffs the victims were consuming." Dr. Chan sampled calculus from six people’s teeth and sent it to study co-author Linda Scott Cummings, who discovered bright blue fibers on “at least two of the victims’” teeth.
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Possible cotton fiber died blue and tied in knot from Sample 1, Midnight Terror Cave, Belize. (Linda Scott Cummings, PaleoResearch Institute )
Mouths Stuffed With Blue Cloths
Dr. Chan wrote that “a unique Maya-blue pigment ” has been identified at other sites in Maya Mesoamerica, where it was used to paint the bodies of impending sacrificial victims. Furthermore, according to LiveScience at Teotihuacan (modern Mexico City), similar blue fibers were identified in “agave-based alcoholic beverages at burials”.
In conclusion, Dr. Chan and her team believe the bright blue fibers suggest the victims had cotton cloths stuffed into their mouths. The cloths most likely served as mouth gags to keep victims quiet as they neared their moment of sacrifice. Regarding dating, the researchers point out that plaque forms and hardens at different rates, depending on diet and physiology, so the team cannot be certain exactly when the fibers were trapped around the victims’ teeth.
Maya blue pigment deposit, Midnight Terror Cave (Melanie Saldaña / IJO)
Chac Was Thirsty For Children
When droughts hit ancient Mesoamerican societies, children were the preferred sacrificial victims to appease Chac, the lord of rain. A 2014 paper, titled “ Subadult human sacrifices in Midnight Terror Cave ”, explained that children were sacrificed in caves because they were associated with Chac and rain. Maya people believed that humans, serpents, lizards and frogs emerged from the deepest caves. Making child sacrifices into cenotes was perhaps an effort to complete the cycle of life, to encourage the waters of life to fall.
An effigy urn or incense holder of Chac, the Maya rain god ( Public Domain )
In 2019, I wrote an article for Ancient Origins titled Maya Sacrificial Victims Were Likely Young, Foreign, and Skinned Alive . A study published in the American Journal of Physical Anthropology Magazine, by Dr. T. Douglas Price and his team of researchers from the University of Wisconsin-Madison, presented isotopic analysis on tooth enamel. That team of researchers determined the sacrificial victims had come from “across Mexico and far beyond.” So while rain was important, not so many Maya parents willingly handed over their own offspring to the priests who murdered them en-masse in Chac’s name.
Top image: Thousands of bone fragments litter the floor of the Maya Midnight Terror Cave in Belize. Representative image. Source: Design Projects / Adobe Stock
By Ashley Cowie
Chan, A., Brandy, J., and Cummings, L. September 20, 2022. Blue Fibers Found in Dental Calculus from Maya Sacrificial Victims . International Journal of Osteoarchaeology. Available at: https://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/10.1002/oa.3158
Cowie, A. August 15, 2019. Maya Sacrificial Victims Were Likely Young, Foreign and Skinned Alive . Ancient Origins. Available at: https://www.ancient-origins.net/news-history-archaeology/maya-sacrifice-0012442
DHWTY. April 27, 2016. The Horrifying History of the Midnight Terror Cave in Belize . Ancient Origins. Available at: https://www.ancient-origins.net/ancient-places-americas/horrifying-history-midnight-terror-cave-belize-005783
Killgrove, K. October 10, 2022. Maya sacrifice victims found with mysterious blue string in their teeth . LiveScience. Available at: https://www.livescience.com/midnight-terror-cave-maya-sacrifice-victims
Prout, M. April 2016. Subadult Human Sacrifice at Midnight Terror Cave . International Journal of Osteoarchaeology. Available at: https://www.researchgate.net/publication/321603659_Subadult_Human_Sacrifice_at_Midnight_Terror_Cave