In 1989 archaeologist Thomas Miller discovered a remote jungle cave known as Actun Tunichil Muknal (or ATM), in the Tapir Mountain Nature Reserve in Belize. Excavations at ATM over the next decade revealed an extraordinary Mayan archaeological site that includes human skeletons and ceramics. Archaeologists say that the Mayans believed that ATM as an entrance to the underworld and came to the cave to perform sacrificial rituals.
The site became known as the Cave of the Crystal Sepulcher because calcite drip water coated the bones and artifacts with crystals and gave them a glittery appearance and cemented them to the cave floor. But the crystal coating, while pretty to look at, has made dating the bones difficult, so archaeologists relied on the pottery and believe it dates between 700 and 900 AD.
In a large chamber, nicknamed the Cathedral, archaeologists found the bones of 14 people who range in age from one year to adult and all died a brutal death. Cranial injuries, consistent with blunt force trauma, indicate that they each received fatal blows to the head and were thrown into the cave.
The skeleton of a teenage girl, who died at 18, has become the most popular of the remains. She was nicknamed “The Crystal Maiden” because her intact skeleton has been dusted with calcite crystals, giving it a sparkling, sugary appearance. Her remains are unique because her skeleton lies face up with her skull is slightly raised, but instead of cranial injuries she has two crushed vertebrae.
Some believe these remains belonged to people who were sacrificed to appease different gods, or they are the remains of witches and social outcasts who were left unburied because it was thought their spirits would be trapped there.
Archaeological Institute of America. (2000). Actun Tunichil Muknal. Retrieved on March 9, 2014 from: http://archive.archaeology.org/online/features/belize/tunichil.html
Atlas Obscura. (2013). See the Cathedral of Human Sacrifices in the Cave of the Crystal Maiden. Retrieved on March 9, 2014 from: http://www.slate.com/blogs/atlas_obscura/2013/08/29/see_the_cathedral_of_human_sacrifices_in_belize_s_cave_of_the_crystal_maiden.html
Martin, Rachel, Dylan, Darmon Richter, Facebook_507607828, Allison, EricGrundhauser. THE CRYSTAL MAIDEN OF THE ACTUN TUNICHIL MUKNAL CAVE. Retrieved on March 9, 2014 from: http://www.atlasobscura.com/places/the-crystal-maiden-of-the-actun-tunichil-muknal-cave
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