Category Archives: MEXICO

11,000-year-old mine in the underwater cave found by archaeologists

11,000-year-old mine in the underwater cave found by archaeologists

Paleoindian ochre mining has been found by divers in three underwater caves near Akumal, on the coast of the Yucatán Peninsula in Mexico.

From the Maya era, the cave’s were a source of mineral and pigment but they were long preceded by mining activity in this Cave at the end of the latter ice age, 12,000 years ago, and 2000 more. That makes this cave networks the oldest known mine in the Americas.

The cave became submerged with the postglacial rise of sea levels about 8,000 years ago and the saltwater in limestone caves helped preserved the archaeological evidence left by the ancient miners.

Over the course of 100 dives since 2017, underwater archaeologists from the National Institute of Anthropology and History (INAH) divers with the Research Center for the Aquifer System of Quintana Roo (CINDAQ) have explored more than four miles of tunnels and passages in three cave systems.

A recent survey of a half-mile section of passages known as La Mina revealed 155 stacks of stones, tools, charcoal remains of human-set fires on the floor, soot accumulation on the ceiling and most probative of all, pits and trenches carved out of the floor where trace mineral analysis found ocher residue.

Stalactites and stalagmites were deliberately broken to allow people and materials to navigate the narrow passages. The flowstone floor was cracked and shattered to extract the ochre underneath it. Broken stalactite/stalagmites were used as hammerstones. Piles of mine spoil line the walls.

There was a comprehensive mining program, all of it done in the dark areas of the cave. The closest natural light source was at a minimum of 650 feet away, more than 2,000 feet away at the furthest point.

“The cave’s landscape has been noticeably altered, which leads us to believe that prehistoric humans extracted tonnes of ocher from it, maybe having to light fire pits to illuminate the space,” points out Fred Devos.

Until now, no human skeletal remains have been found; however, rudimentary digging tools, signs —that would have been used in order not to get lost— and stacks of stones left behind by this primitive mining activity have been located.

The abundance of ocher filled cavities has led experts to theorize about the rocks themselves being used as tools to excavate and break down the stone.

Iron-rich red ochre was used by humans for tens of thousands of years. The mineral pigment was used in rock art, funerary rituals, pottery decoration, and personal adornment.

In ancient America, ochre has been discovered in art, on human remains, in toolkits, on grinding stones, in tanned hides, and much more. La Mina’s ochre was of particularly high quality, very pure in iron oxide and composed of particles so fine-grained that it was basically ready for use as paint as soon as it was mined.

Skeletal remains have been discovered in other cenotes. The 12,000-year-old skeleton of a teenage girl dubbed Naia found in the cenote of Hoyo Negro near Tulum less than 20 miles southwest of Akumal is the oldest complete human skeleton in the Western Hemisphere.

Naia was a contemporary of the miners who sought ochre in caves 15 miles away from her final resting place.

The discovery that these cave systems were mined for thousands of years opens up the possibility that instead of falling victim to an accident — the going theory as regards Paleoindian remains in cenotes — individuals like Naia may have been scouting caves for valuable ochre.

The secret cave lies hidden below the enormous ‘Moon Pyramid’

The secret cave lies hidden below the enormous ‘Moon Pyramid’

A secret cave hidden underneath a Mexican pyramid offers clues about the urban design of Teotihuacan, one of the largest and most vibrant cities of ancient times.

Located about 80 kilometers outside of today’s Mexico City, Teotihuacan peaked in AD 300–650, well before the Aztecs. The city boasted three monumental pyramids arranged along the 2.4-kilometer ‘Street of the Dead’.

Two of the pyramids were already known to overlie caves and tunnels, which were excavated by Teotihuacanos to obtain construction materials, and were later repurposed for activities such as astronomical observations, the veneration of death and the enthronement of rulers.

Denisse Argote at the National Institute of Anthropology and History in Mexico City and her colleagues measured the electrical resistance of the ground beneath the third structure, the 43-meter-high Moon Pyramid.

They discovered a partially filled cavern about 15 meters underneath the edifice.

Unlike the other caves, this one seems to have formed naturally. Argote and her colleagues think the first settlers of Teotihuacan might have chosen it to be the focal point from which the rest of the city was planned.

Hard Science Unlocks Secrets of Teotihuacan’s Pyramid of the Moon

Previous archaeological digs at Teotihuacan have revealed a series of man-made tunnels beneath the Pyramids of the Sun and of Quetzalcoatl, the latter of which is also called the Temple of the Feathered-Serpent.

These had mostly been excavated for construction materials in upper structures, and according to a report in Heritage Daily, these tunnels were later “repurposed for astronomical observations and for venerating death in the underworld.”

The team of scientists applied ERT and ANT surveys, which are non-invasive geophysical techniques analyzing the electrical resistance of the ground beneath the structure.

They identified a natural void beneath the Pyramid of the Moon and a partially filled cavern at a depth of 15 meters (49 ft.) Contrasting with the man-made tunnels beneath the Pyramid of the Sun and the Pyramid of Quetzalcoatl at Teotihuacan, the researchers believe that the cave under the Pyramid of the Moon “formed naturally,” and had been a focal point for the early settlers, in turn, influencing how the city was planned out.

Otherworldly Architectural Town Planning

With the placement of the pyramid at the end of the Avenue of the Dead, at the foot of Cerro Gordo, shaped to reflect the contours of these mountains, the researchers theorize that it was “symbolic of a connection between the avenue and the watery underworld, whereas the mountain serves as an anchor to the earth.” They said the impact of this discovery opens a discussion about the original planning of Teotihuacan ’s urban design.

The discovery under Teotihuacan’s Pyramid of the Moon help’s explain the city’s urban design.

The first human establishment in the area dates back to around 600 BC when farmers began tilling the Teotihuacan Valley, which at that time had a total population of about 6,000 inhabitants.

However, due to the development of successful agricultural technologies, from 100 BC to 750 AD, Teotihuacan morphed into a huge urban and administrative center with cultural influences throughout Mesoamerica.

Mapping the Ancient Underworld

Period III, from 350 to 650 AD, the so-called classical period of Teotihuacan, had an estimated 125,000 inhabitants. At that time it was one of the largest cities of the ancient world – with over 2,000 buildings in an 18 square kilometer (6.95 sq. mile) area. 

This period saw the massive reconstruction of monuments; including the decorating of the Temple of the Feathered Serpent which dates back to an earlier period.

Period IV, between 650 and 750 AD, marks the end of Teotihuacan as a major power in Mesoamerica. The remains of the homes of the city’s elites, which line the Avenue of the Dead, bear burn marks which lead archaeologists to hypothesize that the city experienced waves of violent social unrest that brought about the city’s decline.

What the newly discovered cave system essentially does is answer the question “why” the first settlers stopped here and started building precisely where they did, and not say 10 miles east or five miles south.

The cave beneath the pyramid suggests that people revered this natural access to the underworld so much that around it they built one of the most influential and biggest cities of the ancient world.

And the remains of that vast crumbling ancient city, which was aligned with the Sun, moon, and stars, it would seem, is a 1:1 map of the underworld – with the Avenue of the Dead acting as the main channel to the other side.

Grisly Child Sacrifice Found at Foot of Ancient Aztec Temple

Grisly Child Sacrifice Found at Foot of Ancient Aztec Temple

Archaeologists discovered the site of children’s sacrifice at the foot of an ancient temple in a ruined Aztec city, located at the foot of the ancient Templo Mayor temple in the center of the Aztec city of Tenochtitlan.

It is believed that the young child was sacrificed to the Aztec war god Huitzilopochtli in the late fifteenth century. The sacrifice of children appears to have been relatively common in ancient Southern and Central American cultures.

Aztecs undertook human sacrifices, including children, as they believed this would bring the rains their crops needed to grow. The discovery comes 12 years after the location of the first child sacrifice site at the archaeological site, now in the center of the Mexican capital, Mexico City.

Archaeologists unearthed the remains of the young child, believed to have been sacrificed in the late fifteenth century, at the foot of an ancient temple in Mexico, in the ancient Aztec city of Tenochtitlan, which is now the center of the Mexican capital, Mexico City

The child’s bones were reportedly found along with body adornments and symbols characteristic of Huitzilopochtli.

The remains, named ‘Offering 176’, were found under the floor of a square to the west of the Templo Mayor, which was the center of the ancient city.

The young child was believed to have been sacrificed in the late 15th century. The body of the child sacrifice was found hidden beneath stone slabs

The Aztecs had to raise a series of stone slabs from the floor to make way for the body, archaeologists point out. They then dug a pit in the ground and built a cylindrical box in which the child was placed with volcanic rocks, stuck together with stucco.

One expert told reporters: ‘Then they filled the square with soil brought from the banks of the old lake to build another square on top of it.’

A team made up of the archaeologists Rodolfo Aguilar Tapia, Mary Laidy Hernández Ramírez and Karina López Hernández, together with the physical anthropologist Jacqueline Castro Irineo, had the mission to excavate the find of the Offering 176.

The Aztecs built a cylindrical box in which the child was placed with volcanic rocks, stuck together with stucco. This image shows the remains that were excavated

Each of the human bones and the numerous objects made with different raw materials has been carefully excavated, cleaned, and registered. The discovery comes after hundreds of skulls were recently found in Tenochtitlan that is believed to have been placed on public display in ritual sacrifices.

Tenochtitlan was built on an island in what was then Lake Texcoco in the Valley of Mexico. The city was the capital of the expanding Aztec Empire in the 15th century until it was captured by the Spanish in 1521.

At its peak, it was the largest city in the Pre-Columbian Americas.  Aztec human sacrifices were far more widespread and grisly that previously thought, archaeologists revealed in June. 

A stone Tzompantli (skull rack) found during the excavations of Templo Mayor (Great Temple) in Tenochtitlan. New research has found the ‘skull towers’ which used real human heads were just a small part of a massive display of skulls known as Huey Tzompantli

In 2015 Archaeologists from Mexico’s National Institute of Anthropology and History (INAH) found a gruesome ‘trophy rack’ near the site of the Templo Mayor.

Now, they say the find was just the tip of the iceberg, and that the ‘skull tower’ was just a small part of a massive display of skulls known as Huey Tzompantli that was the size of a basketball court.

In two seasons of excavations, archaeologists collected 180 mostly complete skulls from the tower and thousands of skull fragments. Cut marks confirm that they were ‘defleshed’ after death and the decapitation marks are ‘clean and uniform.’

Three-quarters of the skulls analyzed belonged to men, mostly aged between 20 and 35. Some 20 percent belonged to women and the remaining five percent were children.

Mask of the red queen A.D 670 Mexico

Mask of the red queen A.D 670 Mexico

One of the richest known burials of the Mayan women monarch is the funeral assemblage of Palenque’s Lady Tz’akbu Ajaw, nicknamed the Red Queen as it was discovered to be covered in cinnabar.

Her sarcophagus was in Temple XIII, next to the Temple of the Inscriptions, where her husband, K’inich Janaab Pakal I, was entombed; her malachite funerary mask echoes his jadeite version. 

She also wore a headdress ornamented with shell eyes and fangs, probably representing a deity, and a necklace of multicolored beads. A Spondylus shell containing a limestone figurine probably represents a dedicatory offering performed when the queen was laid to rest.

More than 100 of malachite fragments were carefully put back together to reassemble the Red Queen’s funerary mask. The piercing eyes were made from obsidian and jade.

The funeral complex of Tz’akbu Ajaw, the lady of Palenque called the Red Queen for having been found covered in cinnabar, comes from one of the most sumptuous tombs of a female Mayan ruler. 

Her sarcophagus was located in Temple XIII, located next to the Temple of the Inscriptions where her husband K’inich Janaab Pakal I was buried. Her malachite face mask evokes her husband’s jade version.

She was also wearing a headdress adorned with shell eyes and fangs, probably to represent a deity, as well as a multi-colored bead necklace. A Spondylus shell containing a limestone figurine may represent a dedicatory offering made for the queen’s burial.

Skeleton of the Red Queen

Who Was the Red Queen?

The researchers called the woman found in the tomb the ”Red Queen”. Her remains were transported to the laboratory of the Mexican National Institute of Archaeology and History.

Researchers found that she lived between 600 and 700 AD – a date suggested by the pottery discovered inside the tomb.

The analysis included carbon 14 testing and facial reconstruction. With this, the team found that the woman died when she was about sixty years old and had osteoporosis. Moreover, her diet was revealed to be based mostly on meat.

She also had very healthy teeth, something that was not typical for the Maya people during that time.

Although the burial was a magnificent discovery, the researchers couldn’t hide their disappointment: Inside the chamber, they did not find any inscription or indication which could allow them to confirm her name.

The researcher Arnoldo Gonzalez Cruz believes that she was Tz’ak-bu Ajaw, the wife of Pakal and the grandmother of the last Mayan king.

Currently, the team is looking for the tombs of Pakal and his sons. Comparing the DNA of the woman with Pakal’s sons could help them with this hypothesis.

Mask of the Red Queen from the tomb found in Temple XIII The diadem and mask are made of pieces of jade and malachite.

The Legendary City of Palenque

Palenque was called Lekamha by the Maya people. This word means ”Big Water”. It was an impressive city which was built around the 3rd century BC and was inhabited until the end of the 8th century AD.

This was a political center and the capital for many male and female rulers. Now the site is located in a part of the state of Chiapas. It covers up to 2.5 square kilometers (1 square mile). Archaeologists claim that only 10% of the ancient city of Palenque has been explored so far.

View of Temple XIII and Temple of Inscriptions from the Palace at Palenque, Chiapas, Mexico

Apart from the tomb of the Red Queen, another important discovery has been the tomb of K’inich Janaab Pakal, also known as Pacal the Great. He ruled during the 7th century AD and was buried in the temple called The Temple of the Inscriptions.