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DNA analysis debunks myths about child sacrifice rituals in the Mayan Empire


During the heyday of the Mayan empire, human child sacrifices appear to have been carefully chosen. The chosen victims have something in common, according to a new analysis of ancient DNA conducted by researchers at the Max Planck Institute for Evolutionary Anthropology. The remains of 64 people were found in an underground chamber known as chultun, all belonged to young men, most of whom were close relatives. Among them are two pairs of identical twins.


This discovery contradicts the generally accepted view that sacrificial victims are usually young girls. This is important information about the child victims at Chichen Itza, located in the heart of Mexico’s Yucatan Peninsula.

“The boys’ similar age and diet, their close genetic relationship, and the fact that they have been buried in the same place for over 200 years indicate that: chultun It is the post-sacrifice burial place where the sacrificed people are buried. it was chosen for a reason,” says archaeologist Oana Del Castillo-Chávez of Centro INAH Yucatán.

We know the tragic fate of children cumbersome Since 1967, when excavations revealed the chamber and its terrible secrets. It was probably once a water cistern. chultun It was extended to connect to a nearby cave, a type of natural feature known to be associated with ritual sacrifices.

Detail of Tsompantli , The display of heads in the center of Chichen Itza. (Christina Warriner)

The remains of more than 100 children lie in the cell. However, it is difficult to determine the gender of minors based on the shape of the bones alone, so the idea that the victims were female cannot be doubted. But evidence has recently emerged that at least some of the victims were men. And with more advanced technology, we have been able to obtain and sequence ancient DNA that was previously impossible to study.

A team of researchers led by immunogeneticist Rodrigo Barker set out to examine the Chichen Itza bones to learn and share the stories of the children to whom they belonged. The first step was getting to know each other. showed this chultun It was used to bury human remains for more than 500 years, from the 7th to the 12th centuries AD. But most of the remains were deposited over a 200-year period between 800 and 1000 AD, the heyday of the Chichen Itza culture.

The researchers then analyzed the bones of 64 people, including genetic and isotope ratio analysis of bone collagen.

Isotopic analysis revealed not only what the children ate, but also the source of that food. Previous research had shown that some of the children were brought from other places, leading researchers to wonder where these children came from. Because elements such as carbon and nitrogen in their diet will replace some of the material from which collagen is formed, the ratio of these isotopes in their remains may be related to the location of the food source.

The biggest surprise was that all the children ate locally available food, meaning they all came from local communities. But there were even more surprises. All the bones examined belonged to boys, and at least a quarter of them were closely related and had a similar diet; This showed that they lived in the same house.

“The most surprising thing is that we detected two pairs of identical twins,” says archaeogeneticist Kathryn Naegele of the Max Planck Institute for Evolutionary Anthropology. “We can say this with confidence because our sampling strategy ensured that we did not copy people.”

This suggests that boys were likely chosen in pairs for the rituals, with twins being particularly preferred, the researchers said. Identical twins occur by chance in only 0.4 percent of the general population; so two pairs chultuni is more than expected.

Mayan sacred text “Popol Vuh” It tells the story of twin heroes Hunahpu and Shbalanke, who avenge the sacrificial deaths of their father and uncle, themselves twins, by going through repeated cycles of ritual sacrifice and resurrection to deceive the gods of the underworld. .

“Reports from the early 20th century falsely popularized horrific stories of young women and girls being sacrificed in the area,” says anthropologist Christina Warinner of Harvard University.

“This research, conducted as part of a close international collaboration, reverses this history and reveals deep connections between ritual sacrifice and the cycles of human death and rebirth described in the sacred texts of the Maya.” The study was published on: Nature.

Source: Port Altele

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