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Elongated skulls in submerged Mayan cave

A submerged cavity in southern Mexico has preserved a large quantity of elongated human skulls and bones.

An elongated skull discovered in Sac Uayum
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An elongated skull discovered in Sac Uayum

The Cenote's cavity (a natural pit created by collapsed limestone rocks) is littered with elongated skulls and human bones. Known as Sac Uayum, the cavity is located on Mexico's Yucatan Peninsula. It was used by the ancient Maya for sacrificial offerings. Sac Uayum is located a short distance from the ruins of the ancient Mayan city of Mayapán, about 40 kilometers south of Mérida, the capital of the Mexican state of Yucatan.

Between the 12th and 15th centuries, Mayapán was an important political center, characterized by a citadel enclosed within a stone wall. Within the city walls there were around 40 cenotes, which provided water to its 17 thousand inhabitants. Perhaps it was precisely the presence of the cenotes that pushed the ancients to build the city in this very place.

However, Sac Uayum is not a typical cenote. Local legend has it that a feathered serpent with a horse's head guards the mysterious cave. Older residents of the nearby village of Telchaquillo tell stories of people seeing the snake perched in a tree, jumping down and diving into the cenote. For this reason, the villagers avoid approaching Sac Uayum to avoid encountering the monstrous creature.

The submerged site was explored in 2014 by archaeologist Bradley Russell and his team who spent two weeks diving in the cenote. Before beginning the exploration, shaman Teodormio San Sores led a traditional ceremony called Jeets' Lu'um (calming the earth), to ask permission from the gods to enter the cave and to appease the legendary feathered serpent.

Human skulls and bones lie scattered across the floor of the cenote.
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Human skulls and bones lie scattered across the floor of the cenote.

Since the first dives, archaeologists have discovered the real reason why the villagers fear the cenote. Investigations have revealed that something terrible happened in the past, perhaps connected to historical facts that have been passed down over the centuries and have led to the development of myths and legends.

Archaeologists discovered two chambers connected to each other via a tunnel, the floors of which contained human bones. Ten skulls were found in the first chamber and five in the second. It is thought that there may be many more finds hidden among the sediments and rocks.

Those found appear to be elongated skulls, consistent with other finds found in pre-Columbian tombs from the same period. The skulls were purposely flattened during childhood, although the reason behind this practice is still a matter of debate among archaeologists. The marks on the bones seems to indicate that the death occurred as a result of ritual murder.

Very few artefacts have been found and none of these seem to suggest that these are people belonging to the elite or that they have been subjected to any kind of special treatment.

The bones and skulls belong to both males and females, adults and children. But the real question researchers are asking is: why so many bones in that cavity? Most of Mayapán's residents, in fact, were buried under or near their homes, so the Sac Uayum cenote was not intended to be a conventional cemetery.

Sac Uayum is located south of Mayapán, the mythical place that the Maya traditionally associated with the malevolent principle at the origin of humanity. The dead may have been buried in this place awaiting the next cycle known as Xibalba. Alternatively, the dead may have been plague victims, victims of some particularly contagious disease, so no one would want them close to the rest of the population. And no one would probably want to drink the water from the cenote. This would explain why Sac Uayum appears to have been deliberately excluded from the city limits.

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