Category Archives: MEXICO

Ancient Mayan Cities are Heavily Contaminated with Mercury

Ancient Mayan Cities are Heavily Contaminated with Mercury

The ancient Maya in Mesoamerica used mercury — predominantly cinnabar, but rarely elemental mercury — for decorative and ceremonial purposes, according to a team of archaeologists from Australia, the United States and the United Kingdom.

A cinnabar-painted vessel from the Maya site of Kaminaljuyu in southern Guatemala.

Mercury is a toxic pollutant that affects human and ecosystem health. Elevated mercury concentrations in the surface systems of our planet are primarily connected with increasing industrialization and urbanization.

Mining and fossil-fuel power generation activities are responsible for at least half of known global mercury emissions today. The cycling of mercury through the environment is driven by modern emissions such as these, but also includes re-mobilized legacy mercury from past anthropogenic activities.

An important example of a multi-millennial record of mercury use is from present-day Mexico and Central America, where the Maya used mercury for many centuries before European contact in the 16th century.

The possible environmental consequence of this long, region-wide preindustrial mercury use is yet to be investigated.

“Mercury pollution in the environment is usually found in contemporary urban areas and industrial landscapes,” said Dr. Duncan Cook, a researcher at the Australian Catholic University.

“Discovering mercury buried deep in soils and sediments in ancient Maya cities is difficult to explain until we begin to consider the archaeology of the region which tells us that the Maya were using mercury for centuries.”

In the new research, Dr. Cook and his colleagues reviewed all data on mercury concentrations in soil and sediments at Maya archaeological sites in lowland Guatemala, Belize, the Yucatan of Mexico, El Salvador, and Honduras.

They found that at the sites of Chunchumil in today’s Mexico, Marco Gonzales, Chan b’i, and Actuncan in Belize, La Corona, Tikal, Petén Itzá, Piedras Negras, and Cancuén in Guatemala, Palmarejo in Honduras, and Cerén in El Salvador, mercury pollution was detectable everywhere except at Chan b’i.

Concentrations ranged from 0.016 ppm at Actuncan to an extraordinary 17.16 ppm at Tikal. For comparison, the Toxic Effect Threshold (TET) for mercury in sediments is defined as 1 ppm.

“The ancient Maya frequently used cinnabar and mercury-containing paints and powders for decoration,” the researchers said.

“This mercury could then have leached from patios, floor areas, walls, and ceramics, and subsequently spread into the soil and water.”

“For the Maya, objects could contain ch’ulel, or soul-force, which resided in blood,” said University of Cincinnati’s Professor Nicholas Dunning.

“Hence, the brilliant red pigment of cinnabar was an invaluable and sacred substance, but unbeknownst to them it was also deadly and its legacy persists in soils and sediments around ancient Maya sites.”

As mercury is rare in the limestone that underlies much of the Maya region, the authors speculate that elemental mercury and cinnabar found at Maya sites could have been originally mined from known deposits on the northern and southern confines of the ancient Maya world, and imported to the cities by traders.

All this mercury would have posed a health hazard for the ancient Maya: for example, the effects of chronic mercury poisoning include damage to the central nervous system, kidneys, and liver, and cause tremors, impaired vision and hearing, paralysis, and mental health problems.

It’s perhaps significant that one of the last Maya rulers of Tikal, Dark Sun, who ruled around 810 CE, is depicted in frescoes as pathologically obese.

Obesity is a known effect of metabolic syndrome, which can be caused by chronic mercury poisoning.

“We conclude that even the ancient Maya, who barely used metals, caused mercury concentrations to be greatly elevated in their environment,” said the University of Texas at Austin’s Professor Tim Beach.

“This result is yet more evidence that just like we live today in the ‘Anthropocene,’ there also was a ‘Maya anthropocene’ or ‘Mayacene.’ Metal contamination seems to have been an effect of human activity through history.”

The team’s paper was published in the journal Frontiers in Environmental Science.

1,300-Year-Old Corn God Statue Shows How the Maya Worshipped Maize

1,300-Year-Old Corn God Statue Shows How the Maya Worshipped Maize

1,300-Year-Old Corn God Statue Shows How the Maya Worshipped Maize
The depiction of a young Maya maize god is consistent with other portrayals of beheaded Maya deities.

While excavating a section of the ancient Maya city of Palenque last summer, archaeologists in Mexico were surprised to see the tip of a large nose emerging from underneath the dirt.

As they carefully brushed away more debris at El Palacio, nostrils, a chin and the parted lips of a half-open mouth appeared.

Now, Mexico’s National Institute of Anthropology and History (INAH) has revealed that the ancient face was part of a 1,300-year-old stucco head depicting a young Hun Hunahpu, the Maya’s maize god.

The find is the first of its kind at the Palenque archaeological site, which is located in the southern Mexican state of Chiapas.

“The discovery of the deposit allows us to understand how the ancient Maya of Palenque constantly revived the mythical passage on the birth, death and resurrection of the maize god,” Arnoldo González Cruz, an archaeologist who was part of the find, says in a statement.

The face emerged from an archaeological dig in Mexico. National Institute of Anthropology and History (INAH)

The nine-inch-tall head had an east-west orientation that archaeologists believe represents the emergence of the maize plant at dawn, per INAH. They say Palenque’s Maya residents likely placed the large stone sculpture over a pond to symbolize the entrance to the underworld.

The sculpture was intended to depict a beheaded figure, echoing other Maya art depicting various headless gods.

Maize, or corn, was not only an important source of food for the Maya—it also played a fundamental role in their beliefs. According to the Popol Vuh, the Maya’s K’iche’-language creation story, gods created humans out of yellow and white corn.

As such, the Maya worshipped Hun Hunahpu, whom they believed was decapitated every fall around harvest time, then reborn the following spring at the start of the new growing season, as Ariella Marsden reports for the Jerusalem Post. Because of this pattern, the Maya also associated Hun Hunahpu with the cycle of human life and the changing seasons.

First domesticated about 9,000 years ago in what is now Mexico, maize played an important role in both Mesoamerican culture and the history of archaeology. As author Charles C. Mann writes in Maize for the Gods: Unearthing the 9,000-Year History of Corn, cobs of ancient maize discovered in New Mexico “were among the first archaeological finds ever carbon-dated.”

The head of a young Maya maize god was made of stucco and buried in a pond archaeologists think was once used for stargazing.

Archaeologists dated the stucco statue to the Late Classic Period of roughly 700 to 850 B.C.E. They believe it represents a youthful maize god because of the figure’s “tonsured,” partially-shaven haircut, which looks like ripe maize. This depiction of the deity was common at the time, per the Dallas Museum of Art, and symbolized “mature and fertile” corn.

When they first built the maize god’s pond, the Maya likely peered into it to study the reflection of the night sky. Later, researchers say, they symbolically shuttered the pond by breaking down some of the stucco and filling it in with shells, carved bone fragments, pieces of ceramics, obsidian arrowheads, beads, vegetables and the remains of animals, including quail, river turtles, whitefish and dog.

They topped the pond with a limestone slab, then surrounded it with three short walls and filled everything in with loose stones and soil.

Because it was preserved in a humid environment for such a long time, the divine head must now undergo a drying process, undertaken by INAH’s National Coordination for the Cultural Heritage Conservation, to preserve it. After more than a thousand years underground, the stone sculpture is being reborn—just like the beloved deity it depicts.

Periods of Drought May Be Linked to Fall of Maya Capital

Periods of Drought May Be Linked to Fall of Maya Capital

Periods of Drought May Be Linked to Fall of Maya Capital
Ruins of the monumental centre of Mayapan.

Prolonged drought likely helped to fuel civil conflict and the eventual political collapse of Mayapan, the ancient capital city of the Maya on the Yucatán Peninsula, suggests a new study in Nature Communications that was published with the help of a University at Albany archaeologist.

Mayapan served as the capital to some 20,000 Maya people in the 13th through mid-15th centuries but collapsed and was abandoned after a rival political faction, the Xiu, massacred the powerful Cocom family. Extensive historical records date this collapse to sometime between 1441 and 1461.

But new evidence shows the drought in the century prior may have played a larger role in the city’s demise than was previously known. The study authors note this is relevant today as humans grapple with a future of increased climate change.

Marilyn Masson, an archaeologist and professor and chair of UAlbany’s Department of Anthropology, helped design and is a co-author of the study, which was assisted by an international team of interdisciplinary researchers. They studied historical documents for records of violence and examined human remains from that area and time period for signs of traumatic injury.

Map of the ancient Mayapan settlement site.

Masson, who serves as principal investigator for the Proyecto Económico de Mayapan, said she and the team found shallow mass graves and evidence of the brutal massacre at monumental structures across the city.

“Some were laid out with knives in their pelvis and rib cages, and other skeletal remains were chopped up and burned,” she said. “Not only did they smash and burn the bodies, but they also smashed and burned the effigies of their gods. It’s a form of double desecration basically.”

But that was hardly the most shocking discovery for the researchers.

That came when Douglas Kennett, the lead study author with the University of California Santa Barbara’s anthropology department, dated the skeletons using accelerator mass spectrometry, an advanced form of radiocarbon dating technology and found they dated some 50 to 100 years earlier than the city’s storied mid-15th century downfall.

“So then we started asking why? Because this is a case where archaeology reveals something that’s not told in history,” Masson said.

Plenty of ethnohistorical records exist to support the city’s violent downfall and abandonment around 1458, she said. But the new evidence of massacre up to 100 years earlier, together with climate data that found prolonged drought around that time, led the team to suspect environmental factors may have played a role. 

Paleoclimate scientists were able to calculate annual rainfall levels from that period using a dating process that relied on calcite deposits in nearby caves and found evidence of a drying trend throughout the 1300s. In particular, researchers found a significant relationship between a period of drought and substantial population decline from 1350 to 1430.

The Maya depended heavily on rain-fed maize but lacked any centralized long-term grain storage. The impacts of rainfall levels on food production, then, are believed to be linked to human migration, population decline, warfare and shifts in political power, the study states. 

“It’s not that droughts cause social conflict, but they create the conditions whereby violence can occur,” Masson said. 

The study authors suggest the Xiu, who launched the ultimate fatal attacks on the Cocom, used the droughts and ensuing famines to foment the unrest and rebellion that led to the mass deaths and outmigration from Mayapan in the 1300s.

“I think the lesson is that hardship can become politicized in the worst kind of way,” Masson said. “It creates opportunities for ruthlessness and can cause people to turn on one another violently.”

Following this period of drought and unrest, however, the city appears to have bounced back briefly with the help of healthy rainfall levels around 1400, the authors wrote. 

“Mayapan was able to bend pretty far and then bounce back before the droughts returned by the 1420s, but it was too soon,” Masson said. “They didn’t have enough time to recover, and the tensions were still there and the city’s government just couldn’t survive another bout like that. But it almost did.”

As food insecurity, social unrest and drought-driven migration in parts of the world continue to be of great concern, Masson said there are lessons in how other empires have handled environmental hardships. The Aztecs, for example, survived the infamous “Famine of One Rabbit,” which had been fueled by a catastrophic drought in the year 1454.

The emperor emptied out stores of food from the capital to feed citizens and when that ran out, encouraged them to flee, Masson said. Many sold themselves into slavery on the Gulf Coast where conditions were better but eventually bought their way out, returned to the capital, and the empire was stronger than ever.

This strategy enacted by the Aztec imperial regime is likely what allowed for their recovery, Masson said.

“Overall, we argue that human responses to drought on the Yucatan Peninsula…were complex,” the study concludes. “On the one hand, drought stimulated civil conflict and institutional failure at Mayapan. However, even after Mayapan fell, despite decentralization, intervals of mobility, temporary impacts on trade, and continuing military conflict, a resilient network of small Maya states persisted that were encountered by Europeans in the early 16th century. These complexities are important as we attempt to evaluate the potential success or failure of modern state institutions designed to maintain internal order and peace in the face of future climate change.”

Twin ‘grumpy mouth’ reliefs of Olmec contortionists discovered in Mexico

Twin ‘grumpy mouth’ reliefs of Olmec contortionists discovered in Mexico

Archaeologists in Mexico have uncovered two Olmec reliefs chiselled into large, circular stones that are thought to depict local rulers performing ritual contortion.

Twin 'grumpy mouth' reliefs of Olmec contortionists discovered in Mexico
Carved into limestone, the two reliefs depict rulers from the ancient Olmec civilization in what is now Mexico.

The twin pieces were found in Tenosique, a town located in the state of Tabasco, near Mexico’s southern tip, and are believed to feature rulers from the ancient Olmec civilization, whose name comes from the Aztec (Nahuatl) word “Ōlmēcatl,” which means “rubber people.”

The Olmec reigned between 1200 B.C. to 400 B.C. and are considered the first elaborate pre-Hispanic civilization in Mesoamerica(opens in new tab). Today, they’re best known for their sculptures of colossal heads.

Constructed of limestone, the massive 3D sculptures measure approximately 4.5 feet (1.4 meters) in diameter and weigh 1,543 pounds (700 kilograms) each.

The two carved monuments portray the faces of local rulers with their “grumpy mouth[s]” agape and their arms crossed, according to a translated statement. Each piece is punctuated by footprints, a diadem, corncobs, an Olmec cross and glyphs of jaguars, with the leaders’ open mouths alluding to the “roar of the jaguar.”

Researchers from the Ministry of Culture of the Government of Mexico, part of the Mexican National Institute of Anthropology and History (INAH) Tabasco Center, the organization that recovered the pieces, noted that what’s most striking about the reliefs is the positioning of the figures’ mouths, since they’re carved as though they’re “ajaw.” This signals to archaeologists that the portraits, which date to between 900 B.C and 400 B.C., were that of important figureheads within the Olmec community. 

It’s possible that this style of Olmec carving evolved into the later Maya ajaw altars, according to the INAH statement. “The word ‘ajaw’ means ‘he who shouts,’ ‘he who sends’ [and] ‘the one who orders,’ and in these [later] Maya monuments the mouth stands out, a feature that must come from Olmec times, especially from these reliefs circulars of ‘contortionists’ that are portraits of local chiefs,” Carlos Arturo Giordano Sánchez, the director of the INAH Tabasco Center, said in the statement. Some of the Maya ajaw altars are found at the Caracol Maya archaeological site in Belize, “which tells us about the permanence of this theme for more than three centuries,” Giordano Sánchez said.

The newfound carvings look strikingly similar to five different reliefs of contortionists attributed to the Olmec that were found elsewhere in the region, including in Balancán and Villahermosa, two other cities in Tabasco; Ejido Emiliano Zapata, a town in the Mexican state of Jalisco; and in Tenosique.

Based on those similarities, the researchers believe that the portraits depict rulers performing ritual contortion. This practice involves “adopting a stance that reduces the flow of blood and oxygen to the brain to achieve a trance-like state,” Heritage Daily(opens in new tab) reported.

Doing so allegedly “gave them powers,” Tomás Pérez Suárez, an archaeologist at the Center for Mayan Studies at the National Autonomous University of Mexico (UNAM), said in the translated statement. 

He also said that he believes that the newfound reliefs originated from the Middle Usumacinta region bordered by the Chacamax River to the north and the mouth of the San Pedro River to the south.

The INAH first learned about the reliefs in 2019 after an anonymous tip reported their discovery on a property in Tabasco’s capital.

The sculptures will be housed at the Pomoná Site Museum in Tenosique, which counts the aforementioned Ejido Emiliano Zapata piece as part of its collection. 

Maya rulers’ ashes turned into pelota balls – expert

Maya rulers’ ashes turned into pelota balls – expert

Some Maya rulers may have been incinerated and their ashes mixed with rubber to make the balls used in the game of pelota, an archaeologist says. Burnt human remains uncovered at the ruins of a Maya city have led to a new theory about the death rites of the ancient civilisation.

Descendants of the Maya have been trying to revive the ball game
Descendants of the Maya have been trying to revive the ball game

Archaeologist Juan Yadeun Angulo came up with the hypothesis after finding urns containing human ashes, rubber and roots at a Maya temple in Mexico.

Pelota is among the oldest team sports.

Mr Yadeun, an archaeologist with Mexico’s National Institute of Anthropology and History (INAH), has been studying a recently uncovered crypt underneath the Sun Temple at the Toniná archaeological site in southern Mexico.

Inside the underground crypt and its antechamber, archaeologists found 400 urns containing a mixture of human ashes, coal, rubber and plant roots.

Vases containing human ashes and rubber were found in a crypt 8m (26ft) underground

Mr Yadeun believes the crypt was used to burn the bodies of the dead in a religious ritual.

The ashes were then added to other organic material to make the heavy balls used in pelota, the team game played in Mesoamerica thousands of years ago, the theory goes.

The Toniná archaeological site may not be as well-known as that of Mayan ruins in Palenque but it is an impressive complex built on a hill in the jungle of Chiapas.

Among the constructions preserved to this day is the sunken ballcourt where the Maya played pelota.

The sunken ballcourt at Toniná is well preserved

According to Mr Yadeun, stone carvings at key locations inside the ballcourt offer clues that back up his theory.

He says the stone carvings suggest that three rulers, all of whom died between 722AD and 776AD, were taken to the “cave of the dead” for their “transmutation”.

“Just as Egyptians tried to preserve [bodies], we know here they were transformed in another way,” Mr Yadeun told Reuters news agency.

The archaeologist thinks that the Maya wanted the bodies of their rules to “be converted into a life force, something to stimulate their people” and therefore worked their ashes into the rubber used to make balls for the game.

“We have evidence they were incorporated into balls, during the Classic Period the balls were gigantic,” Mr Yadeun explained.

A carved stone disc found at a different site in Chiapas suggests the size of the pelota ball in the 6th Century and how players propelled it with their hips.

The disc of Chinkultic, which dates back to 590, depicts a Maya ball player

Secret Tunnel Under Teotihuacan Pyramid May Lead To Royal Tombs

Secret Tunnel Under Teotihuacan Pyramid May Lead To Royal Tombs

Mexican archaeologists have announced that a years-long exploration of an underground tunnel beneath the ancient city of Teotihuacan in Mexico has yielded thousands of artefacts and may lead to royal tombs.

According to a news release on Reuters, the entrance to the 1,800-year-old tunnel was first discovered in 2003, and an extensive project involving both human researchers and remote-control robots has been ongoing ever since.

The tunnel is located approximately 18 meters below the Temple of the Feathered Serpent, the third largest pyramid at Teotihuacan, which flourished between 100 BC and 750 AD.

The ancient city of Teotihuacan, which is located about 30 miles (50 km) northeast of Mexico City, is one of the largest and most important sacred cities of ancient Mesoamerica, whose name means “the city of the gods” in the Nahuatl language of the Aztecs.

Secret Tunnel Under Teotihuacan Pyramid May Lead To Royal Tombs

It once supported an estimated population of 100,000 – 200,000 people, who raised giant monuments such as the Temple of Quetzalcoatl and the Pyramids of the Sun and the Moon.

However, much about Teotihuacan remains unknown, including the origin and language of the people who lived there, as they did not leave behind any written records.

The entrance to the tunnel was found beneath the Temple of the Feathered Serpent.

Project leader Sergio Gomez said researchers recently reached the end of the 340-foot (103-meter) tunnel, within which they found an estimated 50,000 objects, including finely carved stone sculptures, jewellery, shells, and animal bones, seeds, obsidian blades and arrowheads.

The tunnel was full of remnants of pyrite or magnetite, a metal not found in the area, which was brought to Teotihuacan and milled. It was used to paint the roof, giving it a sparkling effect.

They also found more than 300 metal spheres, of unknown purpose.

Inside the tunnel under the ancient city of Teotihuacan.

“The Tunnel is the metaphorical representation of the conception of the underworld,” said Gomez. In the middle of the tunnel, three chambers were found that could hold more important finds. A large offering found near the entrance to the chambers, suggests they could be the tombs of the city’s elite.

“Due to the magnitude of the offerings that we’ve found, it [royal tombs] can’t be in any other place,” said Gomez, who speculates that they may find some of the most powerful rulers of the pre-Hispanic world. 

Archaeologists have never found any remains believed to belong to the rulers of Teotihuacan.

Such a discovery would be monumental, as it would lead light on the hierarchical structure of the city and whether the rule was hereditary.

The chambers have not yet been excavated; the full exploration will take at least another year.

Study Investigates Climate and Collapse of Maya City

Study Investigates Climate and Collapse of Maya City

Study Investigates Climate and Collapse of Maya City
Central Mayapan shows the K’uk’ulkan and Round temples.

An extended period of turmoil in the prehistoric Maya city of Mayapan, in the Yucatan region of Mexico, was marked by population declines, political rivalries and civil conflict.

Between 1441 and 1461 CE the strife reached an unfortunate crescendo—the complete institutional collapse and abandonment of the city. This all occurred during a protracted drought.

Coincidence? Not likely to find new research by anthropologist and professor Douglas Kennett of UC Santa Barbara.

Writing in the journal Nature Communications, lead author Kennett and collaborators in the fields of archaeology, history, geography and earth science suggest that drought may in fact have stoked the civil conflict that begat violence, which in turn led to the institutional instabilities that precipitated Mayapan’s collapse.

This transdisciplinary work, the researchers said, “highlights the importance of understanding the complex relationships between natural and social systems, especially when evaluating the role of climate change in exacerbating internal political tensions and factionalism in areas where drought leads to food insecurity.”

“We found complex relationships between climate change and societal stability/instability on the regional level,” Kennett said in an interview.

“Drought-induced civil conflict had a devastating local impact on the integrity of Mayapan’s state institutions that were designed to keep social order. However, the fragmentation of populations at Mayapan resulted in population and societal reorganization that was highly resilient for a hundred years until the Spanish arrived on the shores of the Yucatan.”

The researchers examined archaeological and historical data from Mayapan, including isotope records, radiocarbon data and DNA sequences from human remains, to document in particular an interval of unrest between 1400 and 1450 CE.

They then used regional sources of climatic data and combined it with a newer, local record of drought from cave deposits beneath the city, Kennett explained.

“Existing factional tensions that developed between rival groups were a key societal vulnerability in the context of extended droughts during this interval,” Kennett said. “Pain, suffering and death resulted from institutional instabilities at Mayapan and the population fragmented and moved back to their homelands elsewhere in the region.”

The vulnerabilities revealed in the data, the researchers found, were rooted in Maya reliance on rain-fed maize agriculture, a lack of centralized, long-term grain storage, minimal investments in irrigation and a sociopolitical system led by elite families with competing political interests.

Indeed the authors argue that “long-term, climate-caused hardships provoked restive tensions that were fanned by political actors whose actions ultimately culminated in political violence more than once at Mayapan.”

Yet significantly, a network of small Maya states also proved to be resilient after the collapse at Mayapan, in part by migrating across the region to towns that were still thriving.

Despite decentralization, trade impacts, political upheaval and other challenges, the paper notes, they adapted and persisted into the early 16th century. It all points to the complexity of human responses to drought on the Yucatan Peninsula at that time—an important consideration for the future as well as the past.

“Our study demonstrates that the convergence of information from multiple scientific disciplines helps us explore big and highly relevant questions,” Kennett said, “like the potential impact of climate change on society and other questions with enormous social implications.

“Climate change worries me, particularly here in the western U.S., but it is really the complexities of societal change in response to climatic perturbations that worry me the most,” he added.

“The archaeological and historical records provide lessons from the past, and we also have so much more information about our Earth’s climate and the potential vulnerabilities in our own sociopolitical systems.”

Skeleton With Stone-Encrusted Teeth Found In Mexico Ancient Ruins

Skeleton With Stone-Encrusted Teeth Found In Mexico Ancient Ruins

Archaeologists who found the 1,600-year-old skeleton near Mexico’s ancient Teotihuacan said the woman was 35-40 when she died with an intentionally deformed skull and teeth encrusted with mineral stones

Archaeologists in Mexico have recently uncovered a 1,600-year-old skeleton of a woman who had mineral-encrusted teeth and an intentionally elongated skull – evidence that suggests she was part of her society’s upper class.

While it isn’t uncommon for archaeologists to find deformed remains, the new skeleton is one of the most “extreme” ever recorded.

“Her cranium was elongated by being compressed in a ‘very extreme’ manner, a technique commonly used in the southern part of Mesoamerica, not the central region where she was found,” the team said, according to an AFP report.

The team, led by researchers from the National Anthropology and History Institute in Mexico, found the woman in the ancient ruins of Teotihuacan – a pre-Hispanic civilisation that once lay 50 kilometres (30 miles) north of Mexico City, existing between the 1st and 8th century AD before it mysteriously vanished.

The woman, who the researchers have named The Woman of Tlailotlacan after the location she was found inside the ancient city, not only had an elongated skull, but she had her top two teeth encrusted with pyrite stones – a mineral that looks like gold at first glance.

She also had a fake lower tooth made from serpentine – a feature so distinctive, the team says it’s evidence to suggest that she was a foreigner to the ancient city.

The researchers don’t give any details on how these body modifications were performed 1,600-years-ago, or why they were common in the first place.

But based on other cultures, such as the Mayans, artificial cranial deformation was likely done in infancy using bindings to grow the skull outwards, possibly to signal social status.

While very little is known about the woman’s faux-golden grill, researchers from Mexico did find 2,500-year-old Native American remains with gems embedded in their teeth back in 2009.

In that study, the team said that sophisticated dental practices made the modifications possible, though they were likely used purely for decoration and weren’t symbols of class. 

“It’s possible some type of [herb-based] anaesthetic was applied prior to drilling to blunt any pain,” team member José Concepción Jiménez, from Mexico’s National Institute of Anthropology and History, told National Geographic.

It’s also important to note that the current team’s findings have yet to be published in a peer-reviewed journal, so we will have to take their word on it for now until they can get their report ready for publication.

The Mexican team aren’t the only ones to discover some interesting human remains lately, either. Back in June, researchers from Australia uncovered 700,000-year-old ‘hobbit’ remains on an island in Indonesia.

More recently, just last week, researchers in China what might be a skull bone belonging to Buddha inside a 1,000-year-old shrine in Nanjing, China.

Needless to say, archaeologists all over the world have been quite busy this year, and we can’t wait to see what they uncover next.