(ORDO NEWS) — In 2012, on the alarm of citizens, the Mexican police discovered a cave on the border with Guatemala, where they saw a terrifying scene of a cave sacrifice.
About 150 skulls and other human skeletal remains were dumped in a cave in the municipality of Frontera Comalapa in southern Chiapas.
Now, after a decade of chemical analysis and examination of remains collected from the Chiapas cave sacrifice site in collaboration with the National Institute of Anthropology and History (INAH), it has led to a radical revision of the original police theory.
In a recent INAH press release, an investigation revealed that the remains of a cave sacrifice were in fact pre-Hispanic. Presumably, they belong to the early postclassic period (900-1200 AD.
Mexican police’s initial suspicions that the skulls were part of a recent massacre were influenced by the fact that the skulls did not show the characteristic marks of most pre-Hispanic human sacrifices in Mexico when the skulls were perforated on both sides to fit them on a rack.
However, experts who examined the skulls of the cave victims and what was found around them concluded that the victims were ritually beheaded.
An INAH press release said scientists believe the skulls belong to a millennial burial context, and that a sacrificial altar, or tzompantli, a kind of trophy rack, did exist in Komalapa Cave. The stories of the Spanish conquistadors in the 1520s mention that they saw such tzompantli.
Physical anthropologist Javier Montes de Paz, a researcher at the INAH Center in Chiapas, said in an INAH press release that there are several factors supporting this hypothesis.
First, although some femurs, tibias, and radii have been found along with the skulls, no complete skeleton has yet been discovered. This gives grounds to assume that we are talking about ritual decapitation. “We still don’t have an exact count as some of them are very fragmented, but for now we can talk about 150 turtles.”
Scholars also point to a 2012 Chiapas Attorney General’s Office entry that mentions traces of leveled wooden sticks. The skulls of human sacrifice victims in Aztec and other indigenous cultures were usually strung on wooden sticks using holes driven into the temporal and parietal bones.
However, experts believe that the skulls from the cave may have rested on pillars, which explains the lack of holes. “Many of these structures were made of wood, a material that eventually disappeared and could bring down all the skulls,” Montes de Paz said in a press release from INAH.
INAH said the skulls were mostly female, although they did not comment on why this was the case. “We have identified the skeletal remains of three infants, but most of the bones are from adults, and so far more are from women than from men.”
Interestingly, almost all the skulls were toothless. Although experts have yet to establish whether the teeth were extracted during life or posthumously, similar precedents have already been recorded in the Chiapas region.
In the 1980s, 124 toothless skulls found in a cave in the municipality of La Trinitaria were examined by INAH. In 1993, Mexican and French explorers discovered five skulls placed in a wooden lattice in another cave in the municipality of Ocococoutla. They were also missing teeth.
Montes de Paz urged people to respect the archaeological heritage and immediately alert local authorities or INAH if they stumble upon sites that testify to the distant past.
Uncontrolled visitation by locals can affect the archaeological heritage, sometimes irreversibly. “The call is for people, upon discovering an archaeological context, to avoid interference and directly notify local authorities or INAH,” he said in a press release from INAH.
INAH intends to continue the exploration of the sacrifice site in the Komalapa Cave. Perhaps some clues to the riddle of the toothless skulls will be found. Perhaps answers will be found to the riddle of why more women were sacrificed than men.
Was it a reflection of power relations in pre-Hispanic Chiapas society? Or were the human sacrifices of women more sacred than those of men?
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