Mexico: DNA reveals the thriller of the kids sacrificed by the Mayans in Chichén Itzá | Science | EUROtoday

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In 1967, employees constructing a touchdown strip close to the legendary Mayan metropolis of Chichén Itzá, in Yucatán, Mexico, found an underground cavity stuffed with human bones. The stays have been collected, the cave was destroyed, and since then the invention has constituted one of many best enigmas concerning the Mayan tradition. The younger age of the greater than 100 lifeless made it unattainable to know whether or not they have been boys or ladies, to the frustration of researchers who have been attempting to know why this city carried out frequent human sacrifices. Now, DNA evaluation of 64 of these victims has made it doable to make clear who they have been and speculate why they have been killed.

Chichén Itzá, with its pyramid of Kukulkan, the mythological feathered serpent, its ball sport, its astronomical observatory, and its 50,000 inhabitants, was the epicenter of the Mayan civilization, which expanded all through the Yucatan Peninsula, Belize and Guatemala for hundreds of years, earlier than collapsing across the 12 months 1,000 AD.

Within the non secular advanced there may be additionally the Sacred Cenote, a big gap within the floor crammed with recent water that the Mayans thought-about the doorway to the underworld. Many human stays have been discovered at its backside. The cavity found in 1967, often known as tradition, it was very shut. It in all probability served as a recent water cistern and later as an improvised tomb for the sacrificed.

Mexican geneticist Rodrigo Barquera explaining the results to students at a school in Tixcacaltuyub, near the ruins of Chichén Itzá (Mexico).
Mexican geneticist Rodrigo Barquera explaining the outcomes to college students at a faculty in Tixcacaltuyub, close to the ruins of Chichén Itzá (Mexico).R. B.

Rodrigo Barquera, a Mexican paleogeneticist who works on the Max Planck Institute of Evolutionary Biology in Germany, has been one of many leaders of an investigation that started in 2014 to ship the stays of 64 corpses to Leipzig, extract a couple of milligrams of the petrosal bone of the cranium — one of many densest within the physique—and get well its DNA. The outcomes present that every one kids have been boys between three and 6 years of age. They have been murdered over 5 centuries, from the sixth to the tenth, though the sacrifices intensified within the interval of most splendor and subsequent collapse of the Mayan capital, between 800 and 1,000, in line with the examine, printed this Wednesday in Naturea reference for the very best world science.

The most shocking discovery has been that among the many lifeless there are two pairs of dual brothers who have been in all probability sacrificed collectively. Among the remainder of the victims there are additionally shut ties of kinship, some have been brothers, others cousins, so there was in all probability a transparent bodily resemblance between them.

The Mayan civilization had a particular obsession with twins. His holy e-book, Popol Vuh, which dates again to colonial occasions, however theoretically dates again to the daybreak of this tradition, tells the parable of two twins who go right down to the underworld and are sacrificed by the gods after a ball sport. The head of one in all them impregnates a virgin, who provides start to 2 different an identical brothers who return to the underworld in the hunt for revenge, in a steady cycle of sacrifices. Investigators imagine that every one the kids have been killed in pairs and on the similar time in a type of tribute to the “hero twins.”

Oana del Castillo, bioarchaeologist on the National Institute of Anthropology and History of Mexico and co-author of the examine, delves into this interpretation. According to the parable, “this pair of twins faces death and darkness to guarantee the continuity of cosmic cycles, and with it, life on the surface of the Earth,” she explains by e mail.

Until now it was thought that every one these sacrificed have been ladies or adolescents. One of the primary to suggest this was Edward Herbert Thompson—Don Eduardo—, architect of the plundering of this “American Egypt,” as they known as Chichén Itzá after its rediscovery within the nineteenth century. At the start of the final century, Thompson was appointed United States consul in Yucatán. In just some years he dredged the Sacred Cenote with cranes and eliminated lots of of bones and gold and jade objects that have been despatched to the Peabody Museum on the prestigious Harvard University, the place a lot of them stay. In his novel The metropolis of the sacred effectively, Don Eduardo speculates that these sacrificed have been Mayan princesses who have been thrown alive into the deep waters of the cenote to fulfill the gods.

Part of the petrosal bones of the skull analyzed in the study.
Part of the petrosal bones of the cranium analyzed within the examine.R. B.

The our bodies analyzed haven’t any bodily traces of violence. There aren’t any marks of decapitation or extraction of the center, rituals that have been extra typical of the Aztecs, and which on this case are a lot better documented by the testimonies of the Spanish conquistadors who arrived in Tenochtitlán, in present-day Mexico City. Despite this, Rodrigo Barquera explains that sacrifice is essentially the most believable choice. “At that time, children who died from diseases usually died in the first two years of age. It is rare to find so many dead people between three and six years old. Furthermore, if it were a burial, we would see a mix of sexes, but here there is a clear preselection of males. Many of them were related. And we have also found two sets of twins. The possibility that it is a product of chance is practically zero,” he particulars.

Another issue that helps the speculation of formality sacrifice is weight-reduction plan. Researchers have analyzed the several types of hydrogen atoms (isotopes) discovered within the bones, in addition to carbon 14, which permits them to refine their courting. This a part of the work has been carried out by the Spanish researcher Patxi Pérez-Ramallo, who works on the Norwegian University of Science and Technology. “It was a huge challenge,” he explains on the telephone. “It took me a long time to understand the diet from isotopes. Then we saw that there are three large groups, some that came from the coast and ate more fish protein, others from the interior that consumed more meat and others that have a more humble diet, which indicates that they were from the lower class,” he details. he. The most relevant thing is that the diet between each pair of sacrificed children is practically identical, which supports that they received the same care and food in the months or years prior to sacrifice. The majority of deaths are concentrated in the 8th and 9th centuries, approximately every 50 years, which can coincide with periods of special food shortages and, consequently, political and social instability.

Rodrigo Barquera compares what happened in the ceremonial complex of Chichén Itzá with what can be seen in any church or synagogue. “In these temples we see different rooms dedicated to each rite,” he explains. “In the Mayan city the culture for sacrifices in homage to the twin heroes. However, in the Sacred Cenote we know that those sacrificed were thrown alive when it was completely dry, as a request for the rain to come,” he provides.

Sacred Cenote of Chichén Itzá (Mexico).
Sacred Cenote of Chichén Itzá (Mexico).INAH

For Pérez-Ramallo, there is nothing comparable to the volume and cultural complexity of these human sacrifices of the Mayans, sustained for centuries. The closest, he believes, are the sacrifices of young women and their children by the Incas, whose exceptionally preserved mummies have been found on some of the highest peaks in the Andes. In these cases it has also been shown that they came from remote places and ate the same diet, but these are two or three cases, not dozens or even hundreds.

Those responsible for the work warn that it is not advisable to interpret what happened in the Mayan city with a current vision. “When I analyze things like this I try to be a mere witness and not judge with the eyes of the present,” explains Pérez-Ramallo. No matter how different the Mayan world is from the European Middle Ages, of which he is a specialist, there are always connections. “When the Romans arrived in Lusitania [la actual Portugal, Extremadura y Salamanca], witness human sacrifices by the local population. “They are anthropological behaviors that explain a society, rather than barbarism,” he adds.

His colleague Barquera provides: “In those times, in Mesoamerica, death in sacrifice was an honor. In the ball game the aim was to win and the prize was to be sacrificed. Giving your children as a sacrifice was probably also a great honor. From our perspective it seems barbaric, but that is how the world was explained a little over a thousand years ago. It is something different that we cannot qualify with today's morality.”

The team has also analyzed the DNA of 68 current inhabitants of Tixcacaltuyub, a town near the ruins of Chichén Itzá. The results show that the descendants of the Mayan people retain genetic marks from the epidemics that decimated the American population after the arrival of the conquerors in the 16th century, especially genes for resistance to the bacteria. Salmonella enterica, which in 1545 caused the terrible epidemic of the so-called cocoliztli.

Iñigo Olalde, a geneticist at the University of the Basque Country, believes that this is a “unique” examine. “It is exceptional to be able to recover DNA from so many individuals in a warm area. And thanks to genetic extraction it has been possible to determine sex, since no physical feature in the bones of young children allows them to be differentiated. Thanks to this we know who they were killing for ritual,” he highlights.

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