Category Archives: MEXICO

Aztec war sacrifices found in Mexico may point to the elusive royal tomb

Aztec war sacrifices found in Mexico may point to the elusive royal tomb

Aztec war sacrifices found in Mexico may point to the elusive royal tomb
An archaeologist works on a 500-year-old partially-excavated stone box containing an Aztec offering

A newly discovered trove of Aztec sacrifices could lead archaeologists to an elusive Aztec emperor’s tomb. Such a discovery would mark a first since no Aztec royal burial has yet been found despite decades of digging.

The sacrificial offerings, including a richly adorned jaguar dressed as a warrior, were found in Mexico City, Reuters reports.

“We have enormous expectations right now,” lead archaeologist Leonardo Lopez Lujan said.

“As we go deeper we think we’ll continue finding very rich objects.”

Discovered off the steps of the Aztec’s holiest temple, the sacrificial offerings also include a young boy, dressed to resemble the Aztec war god and solar deity, and a set of flint knives elaborately decorated with mother of pearl and precious stones.

The offerings were deposited by Aztec priests over five centuries ago in front of the temple where the earliest historical accounts describe the final resting place of Aztec kings.

The interior of a stone box shows an Aztec offering including a set of black flint knives decorated to represent warriors

Only around a tenth of the box has been excavated but plenty of artefacts have already been uncovered, including a large number of shells, and bright red starfish that it’s believed represented the watery underworld the Aztecs believed the sun travelled through at night before emerging in the east to begin a new day.

“There’s an enormous amount of coral that’s blocking what we can see below,” said archaeologist Miguel Baez, part of the excavation team.

Route to an Aztec king?

Chroniclers detailed the burial rites of three Aztec kings, all brothers who ruled from 1469 to 1502.

According to these accounts, the rulers’ ashes were deposited with opulent offerings and the hearts of sacrificed slaves.

In 2006, a huge monolith of the Aztec earth goddess was found nearby with an inscription corresponding to the year 1502, which is when the empire’s greatest ruler and the last of the brothers, Ahuitzotl, passed away.

Elizabeth Boone, an ancient Mexico specialist at Tulane University, notes that the jaguar may represent the king as a fearless warrior.

“You could have Ahuitzotl in that box,” she said.

Aztec House and Floating Gardens Discovered Under Mexico City

Aztec House and Floating Gardens Discovered Under Mexico City

Archaeologists have uncovered the ruins of a dwelling that was built up to 800 years ago during the Aztec Empire in the Centro neighbourhood of Mexico City, Mexico, during works to modernize the area.

Aztec House and Floating Gardens Discovered Under Mexico City
Excavated walls of the Aztec house, and one of the funerary vessels.

The centuries-old abode was discovered by archaeologists and construction workers ahead of an initiative to update electrical power substations.

The dwelling is believed to date from the late Postclassic period (A.D. 1200 to 1521) and would have been located on the border of two neighbourhoods in the city of Tenochtitlan, the capital of the Aztec Empire, according to a statement from Mexico’s National Institute of Anthropology and History (INAH). It spans over 4,300 square feet (400 square meters), or about half the size of a baseball diamond.

During the Late Postclassic, the area that is now being excavated was a residential and agricultural centre, and archaeologists at the site also found the remains of channels and a jetty (a platform where boats stop to load or unload) used in the Aztec chinampa method of farming.

The chinampa technique involved growing crops on small areas of artificial land (sometimes referred to as floating gardens) on shallow lake beds.

Archaeologists found more Aztec artefacts in the residential area of the excavations. Under the Aztec building’s thick adobe floors, the excavation team found a pair of funerary vessels that contain the bone remains of infants, as well as several burials associated with an offering of censers (vessels in which incense is burned), whorls (a spinning machine or spindle) and spinning tools.

The researchers also unearthed a stone statue that stands just over 23.5 inches (60 centimetres) tall. The statue, also from the late Postclassic period, depicts a man wearing a loincloth who looks as if he is throwing something.

Archaeologists believe that the statue may have been unfinished, as it lacks polish on the body, and they speculated that it may have been hidden at the time of Spanish intervention in the Aztec Empire, which began around A.D. 1521 according to the statement.

Investigations into the remains of the dwelling also show evidence of saddlery and ceramic workshop, which existed on the site in the colonial era of the 16th and 17th centuries. 

During the 19th century, it’s possible that part of this site was used as public baths, archaeologist Alicia Bracamontes Cruz, who is involved with the excavation, said in the statement.

Researchers uncovered remnants of these baths, including bathroom tile floors and a drainage system. It’s likely that wealthy people used these baths, according to descriptions in the chronicles of José María Marroquí, a 19th-century Mexican physician and historian.

Archaeological work is expected to continue in the area as a pipeline bank is constructed to go inside the new substation.

Ancient ritual bloodletting may have been performed at carvings found in Mexico

Ancient ritual bloodletting may have been performed at carvings found in Mexico

Archaeologists in southern Mexico have discovered 30 carvings depicting capital I-shaped ballcourts cut into rocks. These carvings may have been used in ceremonies involving water and “ritual bloodletting,” new research finds. 

Ancient ritual bloodletting may have been performed at carvings found in Mexico
The image at the top shows one of the ballcourt carvings, its edges have been highlighted in the photo to make it easier to see. The image below shows a ballcourt at the site of Monte Alban, it is of a similar design to the carved ballcourt.

The carvings, in the ancient settlement of Quiechapa, are badly weathered, but small features in a few cases can be made out, such as one carving that appears to show a bench on the ballcourt. 

“Ballgames were of great significance to people throughout ancient Mesoamerica,” study researcher Alex Elvis Badillo, an assistant professor in the Department of Earth and Environmental Systems at Indiana State University, wrote in an article published Jan. 11 in the journal Ancient Mesoamerica

The shape of the ballcourts changed over time, and the rules of the ballgame are not known and may also have changed. The ballgame was played at least as early as 3,600 years ago, involved a rubber ball and two opposing sides, and was played from what is now the American Southwest, in Arizona and New Mexico, to as far south as Colombia in South America, Live Science previously reported. Much is still unknown about the ballgame but it appears to have held some level of religious and ceremonial importance scholars believe. 

It’s unclear when exactly these carvings were crafted. Quiechapa dates back at least 2,300 years and possibly earlier, and people in southern Mexico began using I-shaped ballcourts around 2,100 years ago, Badillo told Live Science in an email, adding that “I think it is logical to suggest that these carvings would have been made sometime after [100 B.C.], however, it is hard to say when these carvings were made.” 

The researchers found the 30 carvings in natural rock outcrops at two sites in the area. “This is the highest density in which this type of ballcourt representation occurs throughout Mesoamerica,” Badillo wrote in the study.

The biggest carving is 13.4 inches (34.1 centimeters) long while the shortest is 3.1 inches (8 cm) long, Badillo said. The archaeological team documented the carvings using structure-from-motion (SfM) photogrammetry. In this system, photos were taken of the carvings from different angles and uploaded to a computer program, which used the images and an algorithm to create a virtual, 3D representation of the carvings. 

This image shows one of the ballcourt carvings after the photogrammetry process.

Bloodletting rituals

It’s not clear what the carvings were used for, but the researchers suggested that ancient Mesoamericans may have used them for rituals. The Spanish priest Juan Ruiz de Alarcón (lived 1581 to 1639), who lived in what is now Mexico following Spain’s conquest of the area in the 16th century, “describes certain rituals during which a [Mesoamerican] priest would have people spill blood into small cavities that they had made in stone,” Badillo wrote in the study, noting that those cavities could include the ballcourt carvings. 

“The idea that water and blood are considered sacred and are symbols that are central to Mesoamerican cosmology is well established in the [scholarly] literature,” Badillo wrote in the paper. 

“These seemingly inert stone carvings in Quiechapa’s landscape may have been part of deeply meaningful and active social performances that included ritual bloodletting for many possible purposes, including maintaining balance and agricultural fertility, marking important moments in time, or fomenting intra- and inter-community bonds,” Badillo wrote. 

However, he cautioned that until more evidence is found, archaeologists can’t be certain that rituals were performed at these carvings. 

Badillo presented the findings at the Society for American Archaeology (SAA) annual meeting held in Chicago from March 30 to April 3. The ballcourt carving surveys were carried out as part of the Quiechapa Archaeological Project (PAQuie).

Rare 1000-Year-Old Maya Canoe Found in Yucatan Cenote

Rare 1000-Year-Old Maya Canoe Found in Yucatan Cenote

Archaeologists have discovered a wooden Maya canoe in southern Mexico, believed to be over 1,000 years old. Measuring over 5ft (1.6m), it was found almost completely intact, submerged in a freshwater pool near the ruined Maya city of Chichen Itza.

Archaeologists also found fragments of ceramics and a ritual knife during the excavation in southern Mexico

Mexico’s antiquities institute (Inah) says it may have been used to extract water or deposit ritual offers.

The rare find came during construction work on a new tourist railway known as the Maya Train.

In a statement, the Inah said archaeologists had also discovered ceramics, a ritual knife and painted murals of hands-on a rockface in the pool, known as a cenote.

Experts from Paris’s Sorbonne University have been helping with pin-pointing the canoe’s exact age and type, the statement said. A 3D model of it would also be made to allow replicas to be made, and to facilitate further study, it added.

Rare 1000-Year-Old Maya Canoe Found in Yucatan Cenote
It’s believed the canoe may have been used to extract water from the pool or to make ritual offerings

The Maya civilisation flourished before Spain conquered the region. In their time, the Mayas ruled large stretches of territory in what is now southern Mexico, Guatemala, Belize and Honduras.

The boat has been tentatively dated between 830-950 AD, towards the end of the Maya civilisation’s golden age.

Around this period, the Mayas suffered a major political collapse, marked by the abandonment of cities dotted around modern-day Central America – leaving ruins of towering pyramids and other stone buildings.

No single theory for this collapse has been widely accepted, but it is believed a combination of internal warfare, drought and overpopulation may have been contributing factors.

The Maya Train is a multi-billion-dollar project, led by President Andrés Manuel López Obrador’s government, which will run through five southern Mexican states.

Advocates have said the rail network will help to alleviate poverty in the region. But critics argue that it risks damaging local ecosystems and undiscovered sites of historic importance.

Lost Maya City Inside Volcano Crater Explored by Archaeologists

Lost Maya City Inside Volcano Crater Explored by Archaeologists

A lost Mayan city that collapsed inside a volcano crater has been explored by a team of archaeologists. In the Late Preclassic period—400 BC to AD 250—there was a thriving Mayan city consisting of temples, houses and squares, in the middle of the volcanic Lake Atitlán.

The Atitlán, situated in the highlands of Guatemala, lies within a volcano carter more than 5,000 feet above sea level.

A catastrophic event—which experts believe was caused by some sort of volcanic activity—caused the city to collapse from its bottom, forcing the Mayans to flee.

Lost Maya City Inside Volcano Crater Explored by Archaeologists
Archaeologists dove into the Lake’s depths to explore the lost city

The city sunk into the Atitlán’s depths and now lies 39 and 65 feet below its surface, according to Mexico’s National Institute of Anthropology.

The lost city has now been explored by a team of archaeologists, lead by the head of the Yucatan Peninsula Office at the National Institute of Anthropology, Helena Barba Meinecke. Their aim was to raise awareness of the city’s significance to the Indigenous communities in the region and promote its conservation.

To reach the sunken city, archaeologists carried out dives in the area.

During the dives, archaeologists uncovered the remains of buildings, columns, ceremonial stones, and other structures. From these findings, they were able to generate a planimetric map of the city.

“With this planimetry, we can speak of a site that measures at least 200 by 300 meters,” Barba Meinecke said in a statement.

Archaeologists also gathered silt samples from the lake in order to assess the dynamics of the site and measure its decay over time. The exploration also laid “groundwork” for a cultural centre, which will allow people to explore the site virtually.

It is not the only archaeological site within Lake Atitlán. There are two other lost cities lying below the surface of the lake called Samabaj and Chiutinamit.

Samabaj was the first underwater Mayan ruin excavated in Guatemala in Lake Atitlán. It was discovered in the late 1990s by a scuba diver who had been exploring the lake’s depths, according to a Reuters report from 2009.

The Maya civilization was an Indigenous society stretching across what is now Mexico and Central America. The earliest settlements in the Maya civilization were formed during the Preclassic period. The civilization thrived for over 3,000 years until it mysteriously disappeared. Towards the end of the ninth century, cities were gradually abandoned one by one.

To this day, experts are still unsure what happened but there are several theories. One is that ongoing warfare among cities caused a breakdown, while others believe that the civilization could no longer thrive in the surrounding environment.

Archaeologists found ceremonial stones and the remains of buildings during their exploration

Collection of Ancient Toothless Skulls Analyzed in Mexico

Collection of Ancient Toothless Skulls Analyzed in Mexico

They all have the peculiarity of not having dental pieces, a trait registered in other mortuary caves of that entity.

Collection of Ancient Toothless Skulls Analyzed in Mexico
The analysis of approximately 150 skulls indicates that these correspond to individuals decapitated between 900 and 1200 AD. C.

A decade ago, a complaint alerted the Chiapas authorities about the presence of human remains in a cave in the town of Carrizal, in the municipality of Frontera Comalapa. Believing to be at the scene of a crime, the researchers collected the bone elements and began their analysis in Tuxtla Gutiérrez, and with the collaboration of the National Institute of Anthropology and History (INAH), it was possible to determine that the bones were pre-Hispanic.

Since then, analyzes have been carried out that allow INAH physical anthropologists to delve into a funerary context that is approximately a thousand years old and even theorize that there was an altar of skulls, or tzompantli, in the Comalapa Cave.

Physical anthropologist Javier Montes de Paz, a researcher at the INAH Chiapas Center, disseminated the preliminary results of said research in a virtual conference, as part of the “With you in the distance” campaign, of the Ministry of Culture of the Government of Mexico, in the which pointed out the factors that support such a hypothesis.

One of them, he said, is that, although long bones of femurs, tibias or radii have been identified, until now not a single complete burial has been recognized but mostly skulls or fragments of these, which is why it is a context of numerous individuals who were beheaded.

“We still do not have the exact calculation of how many there are, since some are very fragmented, but so far we can talk about approximately 150 skulls,” said the specialist, providing a summary of the preventive conservation, cleaning and cataloguing work applied in each one of them.

The second factor by which Montes de Paz posits the existence of a tzompantli is the evidence of traces of aligned wooden sticks, according to the record raised in the cave by the then Chiapas State Attorney General’s Office in 2012.

According to the physical anthropologist, the fact that the skulls of Comalapa do not have perforations in the parietal and temporal bones –like those of the Huei tzompantli of Tenochtitlan–, is explained by the knowledge about altars that used structures to fix the skulls without perforating them.

“Many of these structures were made of wood, a material that disappeared over time and could have collapsed all the skulls,” he said.

Together with archaeologists from the INAH Chiapas Center, it has been established that the bone remains of the Comalapa Cave have cranial modifications of the erect tabular type and that they date from the Early Postclassic (900 and 1200 AD).

“We have recognized the skeletal remains of three infants, but most of the bones are from adults and, until now, they are more from women than from men,” said the researcher, noting that a common characteristic of the skulls is that none of them preserves the teeth.

Although it has not yet been established whether the teeth were extracted in life or postmortem, experts recognize precedents of this type in Chiapas: the Cueva de las Banquetas, explored in the 1980s by the INAH in the municipality of La Trinitaria, where 124 skulls that did not preserve teeth were recovered.

Another case is the Cueva Tapesco del Diablo, discovered in 1993 by Mexican and French explorers in the municipality of Ocozocoautla. Five skulls were discovered there with the particularity of having been placed on a wooden tapesco (grid).

The physical anthropologist Javier Montes de Paz emphasized the need to continue with the research in the complex, and even carry out new field seasons in the Cueva de Comalapa.

In this sense, he highlighted the responsibility that citizens must have to respect these spaces that were often used for rituals and pointed out that irregular visits affect the archaeological heritage, sometimes irreversibly.

“The call is that when people locate a context that is likely to be archaeological, they avoid intervening and notify the local authorities or the INAH directly,” he concluded.

Archaeologists in Mexico find 1,000-year-old Mayan canoe

Archaeologists in Mexico find 1,000-year-old Mayan canoe

Archaeologists in southern Mexico have discovered a well-preserved wooden canoe that may be more than 1,000 years old. Used by the Maya, the vessel was submerged in a cenote, or freshwater sinkhole, near the ruins of Chichén Itzá in Yucatán state, Reuters reports.

Archaeologists in Mexico find 1,000-year-old Mayan canoe
Researchers have tentatively dated the canoe to between 830 and 950 C.E.

The canoe is just over five feet long and two and a half feet wide.

Ancient Maya people may have used it to gather water from the cenote or deposit offerings there, notes Mexico’s National Institute of Anthropology and History (INAH) in a statement. The team made the discovery during the construction of the Maya Train, a controversial railway set to connect tourist sites in the region.

Researchers have tentatively dated the canoe to between 830 and 950 C.E., BBC News reports. Experts from Sorbonne University in Paris are using dendrochronology, a dating method based on tree rings found in wood, to pinpoint the boat’s exact age.

Per a translation by Reuters, INAH describes the find as “the first complete canoe like this in the Maya area.”

Underwater archaeologists found the canoe in a cenote near the ruins of Chichén Itzá.

Archaeologists have previously found fragments of similar boats in Guatemala, Belize and the Mexican state of Quintana Roo.

The experts made the discovery while surveying a site known as San Andrés, located in a buffer area near the planned train route. A team from INAH’s Sub-Directorate of Underwater Archaeology (SAS) investigated three bodies of water at the site. 

While diving in the cenote, the researchers found a cave about 15 feet below the current water level, at a spot that marked the pool’s surface centuries ago. Inside the cave was the canoe.

As Ian Randall reports for the Daily Mail, the researchers also found mural paintings, a ceremonial knife and fragments of 40 pottery vessels that were likely intentionally broken as part of ritual events.

“It is evident that this is an area where ceremonies were held,” says SAS archaeologist Helena Barba Meinecke in the statement, per a translation by the Daily Mail, “… not only because of the intentionally fragmented pottery, but also because of the remains of charcoal that indicate their exposure to fire and the way [the Maya] placed stones on top of them to cover them.”

If the archaeologists are right about the age of the canoe, then it was made around the end of the Maya Classic Period, which is widely dubbed the culture’s golden age. During that era (250 to 900 C.E.), the civilization comprised about 40 cities and was home to between two and ten million people, according to History.com.

Archaeologists explored three bodies of water at the San Andrés site.

Chichén Itzá itself was home to around 35,000 people at its peak, notes Encyclopedia Britannica. The people who founded the city in the sixth century C.E. may have chosen the site because of its cenotes and other limestone formations, which provided easy access to water in a dry region.

Most of Chichén Itzá’s iconic buildings appear to have been constructed by a group of Mayan language speakers who invaded the city in the tenth century, following the collapse of other Maya cities.

Among these is El Castillo, a 79-foot-tall pyramid with a design reflecting Maya astronomical principles.

During the Post-Classic Period (900 to 1540 C.E.), Chichén Itzá joined the cities of Uxmal and Mayapán in a confederacy called the League of Mayapán.

By the time Spanish forces arrived in the region in the 16th century, however, Chichén Itzá and the rest of the Maya’s major cities had been mostly abandoned for reasons that remain unclear. 

INAH has put the San Andrés site under protection in response to evidence of looting at the cenote.

The team transferred ceramic and bone items found at the site to the Archaeological Zone of Chichén Itzá; it also plans to make a 3-D model of the boat for research purposes and to facilitate the production of replicas for display in museums.

207-year-old whaling ship discovered in the Gulf of Mexico

207-year-old whaling ship discovered in the Gulf of Mexico

The wreck of a 19th-century whaling ship has been identified on the sea bottom in the Gulf of Mexico. Its discovery was announced Wednesday (March 23) in a statement released by representatives of the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) and their partners in the expedition. 

207-year-old whaling ship discovered in the Gulf of Mexico
This image of the try-works was taken from the shipwreck site of the whaler Industry by an NOAA ROV. The try-works was a cast-iron stove with two deep kettles that were used to render whale blubber into oil.

Researchers onboard NOAA Ship Okeanos Explorer spotted the wreck on Feb. 25 at a depth of 6,000 feet (1,800 meters).

They used a remotely operated vehicle (ROV) to explore a seafloor location where the shipwreck had previously been glimpsed, but not investigated, in 2011 and 2017, and their search received additional guidance via satellite communication with a scientific team onshore, according to the statement. 

A team of experts then confirmed that the vessel was the Industry, which sank May 26, 1836, while the crew was hunting sperm whales. It was built in 1815, and for 20 years, the 64-foot-long (19.5 meters) ship had pursued whales across the Gulf, the Atlantic Ocean and the Caribbean, until a storm breached its hull and snapped its masts. 

Though 214 whaling voyages crisscrossed the Gulf from the 1780s until the 1870s, this is the only known shipwreck in the region, NOAA representatives said.

The crew list for Industry’s last voyage was lost at sea, but past ship records show that among Industry’s essential crew were Native American people and free Black descendants of enslaved African people.

The discovery of the wreck could offer important clues about the role that Black and Native American sailors played in America’s maritime industry at the time, U.S. Deputy Secretary of Commerce Don Graves said in the statement. 

“This 19th-century whaling ship will help us learn about the lives of the Black and Native American mariners and their communities, as well as the immense challenges they faced on land and at sea,” Graves said.

Life on a whaling ship would certainly have been challenging, with long hours, hard physical labour and poor food that was likely to be infested with vermin, according to the New Bedford Whaling Museum in Massachusetts.

Living conditions could also be extremely unpleasant; a whaler’s account from 1846 described the crew’s quarters, known as the forecastle, as “black and slimy with filth, very small and hot as an oven,” J. Ross Browne wrote in the book “Etchings of a Whaling Cruise,” according to the museum.

“It was filled with a compound of foul air, smoke, sea-chests, soap-kegs, greasy pans, [and] tainted meat,” Browne wrote.

This image of an anchor was taken from the 1836 shipwreck site of the whaler Industry in the Gulf of Mexico by the NOAA ROV deployed from NOAA Ship Okeanos Explorer, on Feb. 25, 2022.

A deep dive

NOAA’s Okeanos Explorer collects data on unknown or little-explored seafloor regions of the deep ocean, mapping seamounts and discovering mysterious forms of elusive marine life at depths from 820 to 19,700 feet (250 to 6,000 m), according to NOAA.

Past expeditions have revealed “mud monsters” in the Mariana Trench, the “most bizarre squid” an NOAA zoologist had ever seen, and a real-life SpongeBob and Patrick living side by side on the seafloor, Live Science previously reported.

Video from the ROV combined with Industry records enabled the scientists to confirm that they had discovered the long-lost whaling brig.

A mosaic of images from the NOAA video of the brig Industry wreck site shows the outline in sediment and debris of the hull of the 64-foot by 20-foot whaling brig.

Another clue that helped experts to identify Industry was that there was little onboard evidence of its whaling activities; when the ship was sinking, another whaling vessel visited the foundering Industry and salvaged its equipment, removing 230 barrels of whale oil, as well as parts of the rigging and one of the ship’s four anchors, according to the NOAA statement.

“We knew it was salvaged before it sank,” Scott Sorset, a marine archaeologist for the U.S. Bureau of Ocean Energy Management and a member of the expedition’s shore team, said in the statement. “That there were so few artefacts on board was another big piece of evidence it was Industry.” 

New research has also shed light on what happened to Industry’s crew on that final voyage.

Robin Winters, a librarian at the Westport Free Public Library in Massachusetts, unearthed an 1836 article from The Inquirer and Mirror (a Nantucket weekly newspaper) reporting that Industry’s crew was rescued by another whaling ship and brought to Westport.

That was a lucky turn of events for Industry’s Black whalers in particular, who could have been jailed under local laws had they reached shore with no proof of identity, said expedition researcher James Delgado, a senior vice president at the archaeology firm SEARCH. 

“And if they could not pay for their keep while in prison, they would have been sold into slavery,” Delgado said in the statement.