More Details Surface Regarding Study of Chichen Itza Sacrifice

January 25th, 2008 by ejalbright

More information has been released about the findings of researchers who studied skeletons taken from the Cenote Sagrado (Sacred Well) at Chichén Itzá. The study, entitled “Osteataphonomy Analysis of Skeletal Remains Submerged in Cenotes: Vision from the Sacred Cenote at Chichen Itza,” examined 2,500 bones retrieved from the Cenote Sagrado in the 1960s.

Several Mexican newspapers have published extended stories about the findings, and they clarify the conclusions previously announced by the Reuters news service. Contrary to the earlier Reuters report, archaeologist Guillermo de Anda did not find that only males were sacrificed. What he found was that adult males and children under 11—sex undetermined—had been sacrificed.

The sexy news angle of the article was that the Maya did not sacrifice virgin women, that is, women of child-bearing age. While all those sacrificed may have been virgins, few were adult women, the researchers found. The researchers reassembled the skeletons, and were able to identify bones belonging to 127 different individuals. Four out of five were from children, and almost all of the remaining belonged to adult men.

According to Reuters, it was the archaeological community that formerly believed virgins had been sacrificed. In truth, it was a common belief, one spread by guides and popular writers. No archaeologist today, at least to my knowledge, believes in that myth.

De Anda’s research has won honorable mention by the Mexican National Institute of Anthropology and History (INAH) as one of the most prominent projects in the nation. The purpose of the study was to examine the skeletons to determine the type of ritual performed, the physiological characteristics and the methods used at the time of sacrifice.

De Anda and his team used a technique called osteotaphonomy, which is the study of bones of the dead as they degrade over time. Combined with forensic techniques, skeletons can be examined to determine if they were subject to violence, which in the case of the cenote skeletons, determine if they had been sacrificed.

A common myth, one perpetuated by many guides at Chichén Itzá, is that the Maya did not perform sacrifices. De Anda’s team found that the skeletal remains, especially those of the children, demonstrated that the limbs had been severed (cut by knives) and the bodies burned and even skinned.

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