Maya sacrifice of dual boys revealed by DNA from Chichen Itza

By Will Dunham

WASHINGTON (Reuters) – In 1967, an underground cistern generally known as a chultun was found close to a sacred physique of water at Chichen Itza, an essential historic Maya metropolis on Mexico’s Yucatan peninsula. Skeletal stays of greater than 100 kids have been discovered inside.

Now, DNA obtained from 64 of them is providing perception into baby sacrifice at Chichen Itza within the centuries earlier than Europeans reached the New World. These entombed have been all boys – a few of them brothers, together with two units of equivalent twins – killed throughout non secular rituals, scientists mentioned on Wednesday. Most have been ages 3 to six.

Most have been interred within the mass grave through the pinnacle of Chichen Itza’s political and cultural clout, from about 800 AD to 1000 AD, although some have been buried within the centuries earlier than and after that, protecting a 500-year span ending at round 1100.

Twins determine prominently in historic Maya faith and artwork, and sacrificing twins is described in sacred writings, together with a ebook known as the Popol Vuh. The Mayan Hero Twins, Hunahpu and Xbalanque, underwent cycles of sacrifice and resurrection as they confronted gods of the underworld. Subterranean constructions just like the chultun have been thought of entrances to the underworld, central to Maya cosmogony.

“Ritual sacrifice was a typical follow amongst historic Mesoamerican populations. Nevertheless, the organic relationships between the sacrificed people had not been described earlier than,” mentioned archaeogeneticist Rodrigo Barquera of the Max Planck Institute for Evolutionary Anthropology (MPI-EVA) in Germany, lead writer of the research revealed within the journal Nature.

“We expect that the individuals from Chichen Itza have been making an attempt to symbolically replicate the Mayan mythological tales and the illustration of the dual heroes on this ritual burial,” Barquera added. “For Maya, and Mesoamerican cultures usually, loss of life is the last word providing, and as such, sacrifices bear excessive significance to their beliefs system.”

Chichen Itza is understood for its beautiful structure, together with a powerful pyramid construction now known as El Castillo. Close by is a sacred water-filled sinkhole known as a cenote, the place the our bodies of greater than 200 individuals have been discovered. And near that’s the chultun the place the boys have been buried.

“The unique goal of chultuns was to retailer contemporary water. This one had been repurposed right into a funerary chamber adjoining to a small pure cave. Each the chultun and the cave have been stuffed with human stays,” Barquera mentioned.

DNA was extracted from the petrous portion of the temporal bone, which homes the internal ear. This small bone has confirmed optimum in preserving historic DNA.

“We sampled solely the left portion as a result of that may be certain that we sampled each particular person solely as soon as. It was not preserved for each particular person within the chultun, subsequently we sampled solely a subset,” mentioned MPI-EVA archaeogeneticist and research co-author Kathrin Nägele.

“From the genetic similarities of two people, we are able to calculate the diploma of genetic relationship. On this case, we discovered two pairs who have been so comparable they might solely be equivalent twins, and not less than three extra who have been full siblings. They may have additionally been twins, however fraternal twins, coming from two totally different egg cells,” Nägele mentioned. “That is the primary time we’re in a position to confidently establish equivalent twins within the archaeological report.”

The analysis contradicted an concept popularized within the twentieth century that the traditional Maya most well-liked feminine sacrifices.

The researchers additionally in contrast the genomes of the boys to these of present-day Maya communities, together with individuals from the village of Tixcacaltuyub close to Chichen Itza’s ruins. They recognized genetic traits in trendy Maya seemingly arising from immune system variations by their ancestors to an epidemic bacterial an infection throughout Spanish colonization.

It stays unclear how the boys died.

“There aren’t any reduce marks or proof of trauma, which tells us how did they not die. However we now have not discovered a reason behind loss of life for them but,” Barquera mentioned.

“In the course of the Spanish colonial interval, 1000’s of Maya books and texts have been systematically burned, and there have been concerted efforts to stamp out Maya non secular beliefs and actions and exchange them with Christianity,” mentioned Harvard College biomolecular archaeologist and research co-author Christina Warinner.

“Because of this, there are a lot of gaps in our data concerning the particular ritual practices carried out by the traditional Maya – and particularly their that means,” Warinner added. “Amongst these, human sacrifice stays one of the crucial misunderstood ritual acts.”

(Reporting by Will Dunham, Enhancing by Rosalba O’Brien)

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