Mystery as 2,400-year-old human remains found in Mexico

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The 2,400-year-old Mayan remains of nine young adults and a baby ritually ‘intertwined’ in death have been found south of Mexico City.

The ten individuals, who had their heads damaged and teeth mutilated, would have been the earliest settlers near what is now Mexico City.

Laid out in a strange spiral shape, the bodies were buried with bowls, pots, basins and some also had ceramics and stones in their hands. 

Mayan people had an enormous fear of death and believed that when someone died, it had been because their souls had been stolen by evil spirits.

Scientists hope the discovery may help shed more light on the Mayan civilisation and their mysterious death rituals.

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The 2,400-year-old remains of people ritually ‘intertwined’ in death have been found south of Mexico City. These ten individuals, who had their heads damaged and teeth mutilated, would have been the earliest settlers near what is now Mexico City

These ten individuals, who had their heads damaged and teeth mutilated, would have been the earliest settlers near what is now Mexico City

These ten individuals, who had their heads damaged and teeth mutilated, would have been the earliest settlers near what is now Mexico City

The discovery took place in the Tlalpan borough near Mexico City by experts from the National Institute of Anthropology and History (INAH) on the grounds of the Royal and Pontifical University of Mexico.

It was found 1.5 metres (4.9 feet) below what used to be the University’s oratory, and is the first grave containing a large group of people to be found in the area. 

Experts are hoping the graves, which have not yet been fully investigated, may also include ornaments or other tributes for the dead in the afterlife. 

Researchers from the National Institute of Anthropology and History (INAH) discovered the plot in Tlalpan, where the Pontifical University of Mexico is currently located

Researchers from the National Institute of Anthropology and History (INAH) discovered the plot in Tlalpan, where the Pontifical University of Mexico is currently located

Head archaeologist Jimena Rivera Escamilla, who has been coordinating the team’s dig for over five months, believes there could be over 20 truncated conical graves at the site.

Two of the ten skeletons are women, one is male and the rest are yet to be analysed. 

Graves with diameters ranging from 1.2 metres (3.9 feet) to 2.3 metres (7.5 feet) have been discovered nearby. 

Eight of the skeletons are believed to be young adults and one is a child between three and five years of age. Another is a baby believed to be just a few months old

Eight of the skeletons are believed to be young adults and one is a child between three and five years of age. Another is a baby believed to be just a few months old

Researchers first started uncovering pits from the area in 2006 which were used as storage places, deposits and tombs. These bottle-shaped pits have a larger diameter at the bottom than the mouth of the pit

Researchers first started uncovering pits from the area in 2006 which were used as storage places, deposits and tombs. These bottle-shaped pits have a larger diameter at the bottom than the mouth of the pit

WHAT CAUSED THE COLLAPSE OF THE MAYAN CIVILISATION?

For hundreds of years the Mayans dominated large parts of the Americas until, mysteriously in the 8th and 9th century AD, a large chunk of the Mayan civilisation collapsed.

The reason for this collapse has been hotly debated, but now scientists say they might have an answer – an intense drought that lasted a century.

Studies of sediments in the Great Blue Hole in Belize suggest a lack of rains caused the disintegration of the Mayan civilisation, and a second dry spell forced them to relocate elsewhere.

The theory that a drought led to a decline of the Mayan Classic Period is not entirely new, but the new study co-authored by Dr André Droxler from Rice University in Texas provides fresh evidence for the claims.

The Maya who built Chichen Itza came to dominate  the Yucatan Peninsula in southeast Mexico, shown above, for hundreds of years before dissappearing mysteriously in the 8th and 9th century AD

The Maya who built Chichen Itza came to dominate  the Yucatan Peninsula in southeast Mexico, shown above, for hundreds of years before dissappearing mysteriously in the 8th and 9th century AD

Dozens of theories have attempted to explain the Classic Maya Collapse, from epidemic diseases to foreign invasion. 

With his team Dr Droxler found that from 800 to 1000 AD, no more than two tropical cyclones occurred every two decades, when usually there were up to six.

This suggests major droughts occurred in these years, possibly leading to famines and unrest among the Mayan people. 

And they also found that a second drought hit from 1000 to 1100 AD, corresponding to the time that the Mayan city of Chichén Itzá collapsed. 

Researchers say a climate reversal and drying trend between 660 and 1000 AD triggered political competition, increased warfare, overall sociopolitical instability, and finally, political collapse – known as the Classic Maya Collapse.

This was followed by an extended drought between AD 1020 and 1100 that likely corresponded with crop failures, death, famine, migration and, ultimately, the collapse of the Maya population.

Laid out in a strange spiral shape, the Mayan remains were buried with bowls, pots, basins and some also had ceramics and stones in their hands

Laid out in a strange spiral shape, the Mayan remains were buried with bowls, pots, basins and some also had ceramics and stones in their hands

Two of the ten skeletons are women, one is male and the rest are yet to be analysed, the researchers said

Two of the ten skeletons are women, one is male and the rest are yet to be analysed, the researchers said

The bodies were buried 'interacting', according to lead anthropologist Lucia Lopez Mejia. Placed directly on the earth, the bodies were 'linked', so the arm bones of one individual appear under the spine of another 

The bodies were buried ‘interacting’, according to lead anthropologist Lucia Lopez Mejia. Placed directly on the earth, the bodies were ‘linked’, so the arm bones of one individual appear under the spine of another 

Head archaeologist Jimena Rivera Escamilla, who has been coordinating the team's dig for over five months, believes there could be over 20 truncated conical graves at the site

Head archaeologist Jimena Rivera Escamilla, who has been coordinating the team’s dig for over five months, believes there could be over 20 truncated conical graves at the site

Graves with diameters ranging from 1.2 metres (3.9 feet) to 2.3 metres (7.5 feet) have been discovered nearby

Graves with diameters ranging from 1.2 metres (3.9 feet) to 2.3 metres (7.5 feet) have been discovered nearby

The site dates back to the Preclassic period of Mayan history and falls between the Middle (1000-400 BC) and Late (400 BC-250 AD) periods

The site dates back to the Preclassic period of Mayan history and falls between the Middle (1000-400 BC) and Late (400 BC-250 AD) periods

The site dates back to the Preclassic period of Mayan history and falls between the Middle (1000-400 BC) and Late (400 BC-250 AD) periods

Archaeologist Martha Garcia Orihuela discovered the latest grave with the bones from 10 people in a circle in a hole with a 2-metre (6.5-foot) diameter.  

The bodies were buried ‘interacting’, according to lead anthropologist Lucia Lopez Mejia. 

Placed directly on the earth, the bodies were ‘linked’, so the arm bones of one individual appear under the spine of another, writes Spanish site La Journada Maya

‘We have different anatomical depositions: ventral flexion, hyperflexion with the lower limbs bent towards the pelvis, dorsal decubitus with the limbs towards the abdomen, and extended ventral decubitus’, said Dr Mejia. 

Talalpan offered lots of resources such as fresh water, trees for construction, fertile soils and animals for hunting

Talalpan offered lots of resources such as fresh water, trees for construction, fertile soils and animals for hunting

WHAT WAS MEXICO LIKE 2,000 YEARS AGO?

The period known as the Middle and Late Formative (900 BC – 900 AD) was one of increased cultural regionalism in Mexico.

The Zapotec people for example produced the first writing and written calendar.

Their civilisation started in Oaxaca around 2,300 years ago.

They had a separate and distinctive culture from the Maya and the Toltec and the Aztec.

Experts believed Zapotec people played a sacred ritual ball game which was enjoyed by many pre-Hispanic peoples in Mesoamerica.

The game was a cross between football and basketball and involved hitting a rubber ball around a court.

It sometimes ended in sacrificial death for the losers.

At the time, the Maya, Zapotec, Totonac and Teotihuancan civilisations were all becoming more distinct.

The Maya created astronomy, mathematics, calendar making and hieroglyphic writing, writes Britannica.

They also developed big cities with temples, pyramids and places for playing ball games.

Before the Spanish conquest it was believed the Maya had one of the most advanced civilisations of the Western Hemisphere.

Eight of them are believed to be young adults and one is a child between three and five years of age.

Another is a baby believed to be just a few months old.

The site dates back to the Preclassic period of Mayan history and falls between the Middle (1000-400 BC) and Late (400 BC-250 AD) periods.

Although little is known of civilisations living in the area at this time, Dr Rivera Escamilla hopes to shed more light on them.

She believes that the area was settled for over 500 years during the end of the Middle and at the beginning of the Late periods.

According to the expert, the Tlalpan site is home to one of the few villages established to the east of Cuicuilco and probably grew to become an important settlement at a regional level. 

 





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