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Genetic research reveals new details about the sacrifice of human sacrifices and in particular babies among the Maya

Ancient Mayan genomes reveal the practice of sacrificing male twins hundreds of years before Spanish settlement. In the genetic research, two pairs of male identical twins were found, which corresponds with the stories of the ancient Mayan book

Pyramid of Cuculcan (El Castillo) in Chichen Itza in Mexico. Illustration: depositphotos.com
Pyramid of Cuculcan (El Castillo) in Chichen Itza in Mexico. Illustration: depositphotos.com

After the collapse of Classic Maya culture, the Mayan city of Chichen Itza rose to prominence and was one of the largest and most influential cities of the ancient Maya, but many of its political and ritual connections remain completely misunderstood. In a new study published in the journal Nature, researchers discovered a practice of child sacrifice that mainly included males. A close family relationship, including two pairs of identical twins, suggests a connection to the basic myths of the Maya as told in the book "Popul Wu". Another comparison with today's Mayan populations reveals the effect of epidemics from the Spanish occupation period on the genetics of today's Mayans.

El Castillo, also known as the Temple of Cucolcan, is one of the largest buildings in Chichen Itza and its architecture reflects its extensive political connections.

The ancient city of Chichen Itza, located in the heart of the Yucatan Peninsula in Mexico, is one of the most iconic and mysterious archaeological sites in North America. The city rose to power following the collapse of the Classic Mayan culture and was a powerful political center in the centuries before the arrival of the Spanish. Chichen Itza's influence extended throughout the Mayan region and into central Mexico. The city is famous for its monumental architecture, which includes more than a dozen ball courts and many temples, including the huge temple of El Castillo decorated with feathered snakes, the site has been archaeologically studied for more than a century.

The remains of the "wall of skulls" in the Mayan temple at Chichen Itza in Mexico. Illustration: depositphotos.com
The remains of the "wall of skulls" in the Mayan temple at Chichen Itza in Mexico. Illustration: depositphotos.com

Chichen Itza is particularly known for the extensive evidence of sacrificial sacrifice, which includes the physical remains of the victims and the representations in the monumental art. Controversial excavations of the Holy Cenotaph at the site in the early 20th century identified the remains of hundreds of people, and a full stone representation of a tezumpantali (shelf of skulls) at the site points to the centrality of sacrifice in ritual life at Chichen Itza. Despite this, the role and context of ritual sacrifice at the site remain unknown.

A large part of the victims sacrificed on the site were children and teenagers. Although it is widely believed that women were the focus of sacrifice at the site, it is difficult to determine the gender of the young skeletal remains based on physical examination alone, and recent anatomical analyzes indicate that many of the young adults were male. In 1967, an underground alcove was discovered near the Holy Cenote that contained the scattered remains of more than a hundred children. The cell, which was probably a repurposed cholton (water reservoir), was expanded to connect to a small cave. Among the ancient Maya, caves, cenotes, and choltons were long associated with child sacrifice, and these subterranean features were considered connection points to the underworld.

To better understand the ritual life and the context of child sacrifice at Chichen Itza, an international team of researchers from various institutions, including the Max Planck Institutes for Evolutionary Anthropology (Leipzig) and Geoanthropology (Jenna), the National School of Anthropology and History (ENAH, Mexico City ), the National Institute of Anthropology and History (INAH-Yucatan, Merida), and Harvard University (Cambridge), performed an in-depth genetic investigation of the remains of 64 children ritually sacrificed at Cholton in Chichen Itza.

### Sacrifice that focused on males and family kinship

An image of part of the Tezumpantal stone, or shelf of skulls, being restored at Chichen Itza.

Dating of the remains revealed that the Cholton was used for burial purposes for more than 500 years, from the 7th to the 12th century AD, but most of the children were buried during Chichen Itza's political heyday between 800 and 1000 AD. The genetic analysis revealed that all 64 children tested were male. Further genetic analysis revealed that the children were taken from local Mayan populations, and at least a quarter of the children were related to at least one other Cholton child. These young relatives consumed a similar diet, indicating that they grew up in the same household. "Our findings show strikingly similar dietary patterns among individuals showing a first- or second-degree familial relationship," says co-author Pataksi Pérez-Ramalo, a postdoctoral researcher at the Department of Archeology and Cultural History, NTNU University Museum, Trondheim, Norway, and the Max Planck Institute for Geoanthropology.

"One of the surprising findings was the identification of two pairs of identical twins," says Catherine Nagel, co-author and director of the research group at the Max Planck Institute for the Anthropology of Evolution. "We can say this with certainty because our sampling strategy ensured that we didn't duplicate the individuals." Taken together, the findings suggest that closely related male children were likely selected in pairs for ceremonial activities related to Cholton.

"The similar ages and diet of the male children, their close genetic relationship, and the fact that they were buried in the same place for more than 200 years point to Cholton as a post-sacrificial burial site, where the only ones sacrificed were chosen for a specific reason," says Oana del Castillo-Chavez , co-author and researcher in the Department of Physical Anthropology at the INAH Yucatan Center.

Connections to Popul W

Twins have a special place in the origin stories and in the spiritual life of the ancient Mayan culture. Twin sacrifice is a central theme in the sacred book of the Maya Quiche, known as Popul Wu, a book that the Maya could trace back more than 2,000 years in the Maya region. In Popul Wu, the Hun Hoon Hoon Hoon Hoon Hoon Hoon Hoon Hoon Hoon Hoon Hoon Hoon Hoon Hoon Hoon Hoon Hoon Hoon Hoon Hoon Hoon Hoon Hoon Hoon Hoon Hoon Hoon Hoon Hoon Hoon Hoon Hoon Hoon Hoon Hoon Hoon Hoon Hoon Hoon Hoon Hoon Hon Hoon Hon Hoon Hon Hon Hoon The twin sons of Hon Hoonpo, known as the Hero Twins Hoonpo and Ixablanca, continue to avenge the deaths of their father and uncle by experiencing repeated cycles of sacrifice and rebirth to outwit the gods of the underworld. The Hero Twins and their adventures are abundantly depicted in Classic Maya art, and since underground structures were considered entrances to the underworld, the burial of the Twins and close couples at Cholton in Chichen Itza may recall rituals associated with the Hero Twins.

"Evidence from the new study reveals the deep connections between sacrificial sacrifice and the cycles of human death and rebirth described in the sacred texts of the Maya," says Christina Wariner, an associate professor at Harvard University and director of the research group at the Max Planck Institute for the Anthropology of Evolution.

### The continuing genetic legacy of colonial era epidemics

The detailed genetic information gathered at Chichen Itza allowed researchers to investigate another important question in Central America: the long-term genetic impact of epidemics from the Spanish colonial period on indigenous populations. Working closely with the residents of the local Mayan community of Tixcaltiv, the researchers found evidence for positive genetic selection in vaccine-related genes, and in particular selection for genetic variants that protect against salmonella infection. During the 16th century in Mexico, wars, famines and epidemics caused the population to decline by up to 90 percent, and one of the most severe epidemics was the coccolithic plague in 1545, which was recently identified as being caused by the pathogen Salmonella enterica paratype C.

"Today's Mayas bear the genetic scars of colonial-era epidemics," says lead author Rodrigo Barcara, an immunogeneticist and postdoctoral researcher at the Max Planck Institute for Evolutionary Anthropology. "Multiple lines of evidence indicate specific genetic changes in the immune genes of contemporary Mexicans of indigenous and mixed ancestry associated with increased resistance to Salmonella enterica infection."

"The new information acquired from ancient DNA not only allowed us to rule out outdated hypotheses and assumptions and gain new insights into the biological outcomes of past events, but also gave us a glimpse into the cultural life of the ancient Mayans," says lead researcher Johannes Krause, director of the Department of Archaeogenetics at the Max Institute. Planck for the anthropology of evolution. Such studies also empower Indigenous scholars to shape the narratives of the past and set priorities for the future. "It is significant for me as a researcher of indigenous origin that I can contribute to the construction of knowledge," says Maria Armila Mu-Mazeta, co-author of the study and researcher at the Autonomous University of Yucatán (UADY). "I see the preservation of the historical memory of the Maya as of utmost importance."

for the scientific article

More of the topic in Hayadan:

2 תגובות

  1. Islam and Islam also offer human sacrifices to achieve their destructive goals, there is nothing new under the sun

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