Category Archives: MEXICO

Studies of bodies buried 500 years ago in Mexico reveal stories of 3 African slaves

Studies of bodies buried 500 years ago in Mexico reveal stories of 3 African slaves

The men excavating a new metro line in central Mexico City stumbled on a long-lost cemetery in the late 1980s. Documents showed it had once been connected to a colonial hospital built between 1529 and 1531—only about 10 years after the Spanish conquest of Mexico—for Indigenous patients.

Three stood out as archeologists excavated the uncovered skeletons. Their teeth were filed into shapes similar to those of enslaved Africans from Portugal and people living in parts of West Africa.

Chemical and genetic studies also suggest that these people are among the first African generation to arrive in the Americas, likely as early victims of the burgeoning transatlantic slave trade.

The skulls of the men buried in Mexico City whose bodies were found in the 1990s.
The skulls of the men buried in Mexico City whose bodies were found in the 1990s.

Tens of thousands of slaves and free Africans lived in Mexico during the 16th and 17th centuries. Today, almost all Mexicans have little African ancestry

Rodrigo Barquera, a graduate student in archaeogenetics at the Max Planck Institute for the Science of Human History, suspected the remains might offer a window into lives often left out of historical records.

To confirm their origins, he and his adviser Johannes Krause extracted DNA and analyzed chemical isotopes, including strontium, carbon, and nitrogen, from their teeth.

Their DNA revealed that all three were men with ancestry from West Africa. (Researchers couldn’t connect them to particular countries or groups.) And the ratios of the chemicals in their teeth, which preserve a signature of the food and water they consumed as children, were consistent with West African ecosystems, the researchers report today in Current Biology.

“It’s really nice to see how well the different lines of evidence come together,” says Anne Stone, an anthropological geneticist at Arizona State University, Tempe, who wasn’t involved with the research.

All three skeletons, now at the National School of Anthropology and History in Mexico City, show signs of trauma and violence.

Remains of the three men show signs of physical abuse, such as the green stains produced by a gunshot wound.

The men were likely in their late 20s or early 30s when they died. Before that, one man survived several gunshot wounds, and he and another man showed a thinning of their skull bones associated with malnutrition and anemia.

The third man’s skeleton showed signatures of stress from grueling physical labor, including a poorly healed broken leg. These signs of abuse make it likely that the men were enslaved rather than free, Krause says.

The two men with malnutrition also carried pathogens linked to chronic diseases, according to a genetic analysis of the microbes preserved in their teeth.

One had the hepatitis B virus, and the other carried the bacterium that causes yaws, a disease in the same family as syphilis.

Both microbes were most closely related to African strains, making it likely the men caught these pathogens in Africa. Or perhaps they picked up the microbes on an overcrowded slave ship voyaging to the Americas, suggests Ayana Omilade Flewellen, an archaeologist at the University of California, Berkeley, who studies the experiences of enslaved Africans and wasn’t involved in the study.

Such journeys killed millions between the 16th and 19th centuries. Either way, this is direct evidence that the transatlantic slave trade introduced novel pathogens to the Americas, Krause says, just as European colonization did.

The three men survived all these hardships. In fact, researchers still aren’t sure what killed them.

They were buried in a mass grave in the hospital’s cemetery that could be linked to an epidemic, perhaps of smallpox or measles. But researchers didn’t find DNA from deadly infectious diseases in their remains.

The men’s presence in a hospital for Indigenous people highlights the largely forgotten diversity of early colonies in the Americas, Flewellen says. “We need to break out of the binary of just Native [American] and European experiences” and remember that Africans were part of the story as well.

Postclassic Period Maya Village Discovered in Mexico

Postclassic Period Maya Village Discovered in Mexico

In between the Mangroves and the Forest, experts from the Institute of Anthropology and History (INAH) documented the Post-Classic Mayan Pre-Hispanic Settlement (1200-1546 AD), which represents the first of that era detected in the locality on the eastern coast of the Yucatan peninsula.

The ancient village named by the specialists of the INAH Quintana Roo Center, as Mahahual has as a particularity remarkable proximity to the Caribbean coast, for which, together with the fact that all the structures located at this time are of residential or water supply structures, it is theorized that the fundamental vocations of those who inhabited it were fishing and agriculture.

However, according to archaeologist Fernando Cortés de Brasdefer, a continuation of research work will be carried out at the site to find any indications of elite zones, or ritual or civic-religious areas, because the area prospected in the first stage of the study, was only 1.5 kilometers long by 450 meters wide.

Until now little was known about the presence of farming and fishing villages on the eastern coast of the Yucatan peninsula, almost on the Belizean border

“Up to now the settlement has a heterogenous network form which is a conformation interweaving paths constituted by family estates that gave origin to a large group of highly organized people”.

So, he explains, what the current inhabitants of Mahahual had believed were natural stone walls, in fact are constructions that bordered lands in whose interior were orchards and “small houses made of guano palm and mud walls built upon limestone platforms equal to the traditional houses built by the contemporary Maya”.

The surface tours carried out by archaeologists, at the request of the owner of the land, for which a tourism development project is planned, reveal to now an estimated 80 structures: most of them water-related habitational vestiges, man-made vessels to collect the vital liquid; and ‘sartenejas’ natural wells that were dug to reach aquifers.

The region on which the archaeological site is located also has cenotes, caves and caverns, as well as various elements that over time have accumulated there, for example, remains of a metal boiler, which is calculated to be from the Porfirian era.

Another peculiarity of Mahahual is that no additional objects such as ceramic remains, stone (lithic) or bone elements have been found. This could be explained by the fact that the site was occupied for a relatively short generational time.

For now, the researchers of the INAH Quintana Roo Center continue working with the research team and reports will be delivered to the Institute’s Council of Archaeology.

A copy of the file will also be made available to the individual who requested the inspection, together with pertinent indications in order to compel all those involved to further research, conserve and protect the archaeological heritage detected.

Fernando Cortés concludes that although Mahahual is not a site with large ritual structures it still is important because it provides new data revealing to which geographies of the eastern coast of the Yucatan peninsula, closest to the border with Belize, the Mayans extended.

“We know little about the way of life of those who lived in this region; however, this survey reveals that they could have been farmers who complemented their diet with fishing.

In addition, their direct access to the sea would have given them advantages to exchange commercial products with other coastal and inland peoples”, he concluded

Cave Full of Untouched Maya Artifacts Found at Chichén Itzá

Cave Full of Untouched Maya Artifacts Found at Chichén Itzá

In Mexico, archeologists found some 200 Mayan artifacts that seem to have been untouched for 1,000 years. In a cave of ruins in the ancient Mayan City of Chichen Itza on the Yucatán peninsula in Mexico, objects were discovered.

The discovery has been revealed at a press conference in Mexico City by the Mexican National Institute of Anthropology and History. The lead researcher on the project is Mexican archaeologist Guillermo de Anda. He called the cave a “scientific treasure.”

He said the artifacts appear to date back to around A.D. 1000. “What we found there was incredible and completely untouched,” he added.

Pre-columbian artifacts sit in a cave at the Mayan ruins of Chichen Itza, Yucatan, Mexico

The findings included bone pieces and burnt offering materials. In addition, incense burners, vases, plates, and other objects were discovered. Some items included the likeness of Tlaloc, the rain god of central Mexico.

The Mayans also had their own rain god, called Chaac. But experts believe the Mayans may have imported Tlaloc from other pre-Hispanic cultures.

The cave where the objects were found is part of a cave system known as Balamku or “Jaguar God.” The cave is about three kilometers east of the main pyramid of Kukulkan, which sits at the center of Chichen Itza.

The stone city is described by the United Nations as “one of the greatest Mayan centers of the Yucatán Peninsula.”

The cave sits about 24 meters underground, with areas connected by passages. De Anda said some of the passages were so narrow that researchers had to crawl in or pull themselves through.

Pre-columbian artifacts sit in a cave at the Mayan ruins of Chichen Itza, Yucatan, Mexico

He added that his team had so far explored about 460 meters of the cave, and is unsure how far it stretches. The team plans to continue exploring the cave. Artifacts found will not be removed, but studied inside, he said.

The team accidentally found the artifacts while exploring Chichen Itza in an effort to learn more about its underground water system.

A series of sinkhole lakes, known as cenotes, can be seen on parts of the surface. But the archaeologists are exploring other water sites below pyramids, temples, and other buildings.

Water was always central to the city. Its name in Maya means “at the mouth of the well of the Water Wizards.”

The cave had been discovered by local people 50 years ago, but was not fully explored, de Anda said. He hopes the new discovery will help scientists better understand the history, lives, and beliefs of people who lived in Chichen Itza.

He said archaeologists believe there may be another undiscovered cave hidden under the pyramid of Kukulkan that could be connected to the latest find.

“Let’s hope this leads us there,” de Anda said. “That is part of the reason why we are entering these sites, to find a connection to the cenote under the (Kukulkan).”

Ancient Maya kingdom with pyramid discovered in southern Mexico

Ancient Maya kingdom with pyramid discovered in southern Mexico

Since exploring for over a quarter of a century, archeologists have at last discovered the site of Sak Tz’i, a Maya kingdom that’s referenced in sculptures and inscriptions from across the ancient Maya world. But it wasn’t archaeologists who made the find.

A local man discovered a 2- by 4-foot (0.6 by 1.2 meters) tablet near Lacanja Tzeltal, a community in Chiapas, Mexico.

The tablet’s inscriptions are a treasure trove of mythology, poetry, and history that reflect the typical Maya practice of weaving together myth and reality.

A drawing (left) and a digital 3D model (right) of a stone slab found at the newly discovered kingdom.

Various sections of the tablet contain inscriptions that recount a mythical water serpent, various unnamed gods, a mythic flood, and accounts of the births, lives, and battles of ancient rulers, according to a news statement from Brandeis University in Massachusetts. 

Sak Tz’i’ sat on what’s now the border between Mexico and Guatemala, and it probably wasn’t an especially powerful kingdom, Charles Golden, an associate professor of anthropology at Brandeis University, said in the statement. 

Despite being surrounded by stronger neighbors, evidence suggests that the kingdom’s capital city was occupied for more than a millennium after being settled in 750 B.C.

The kingdom’s longevity may be due to the fortifications that surrounded its capital city. The researchers found evidence that the city was protected by a stream with a steep ravine on one side and defensive masonry walls on the other. 

The team members added that the kingdom may have benefitted from forming strategic peace deals with its more powerful neighbors.

Even though this kingdom never achieved great power, “Sak Tz’i’ was a formidable enemy and an important ally to those greater kingdoms, as evidenced by the frequency by which it appears in texts at those sites,” the researchers wrote in the study, published online in the Journal of Field Archaeology.

That said, the kingdom experienced conflict, both with its neighbors and from nature, the archaeological record suggests. For instance, there’s a figure of a dancing ruler carved into the bottom of the tablet.

This ruler is dressed like the god Yopaat, who is associated with violent tropical storms. The figure holds a lightning-bolt ax in his right hand and a stone weapon used in ritual combat in his left hand. 

What’s more, the researchers found another sculpture at the site that appears to tell of a fire that destroyed part of the city during a violent conflict with one of its neighbors.

University of Pennsylvania student Whittaker Schroder (left) and Brown University bioarchaeologist Andrew Scherer (right) excavate the remains of the Maya ball court.

Since excavation began in the summer, the researchers have identified several structures that offer insight into political, religious, and commercial life in the kingdom. These include the remains of pyramids, a royal palace, and a ball court. 

One of the capital’s most striking features, the ruins of a pyramid that once stood 45 feet (14 m) tall, is surrounded by structures that might have served as houses for elites and religious rituals, the researchers said.

The pyramid also has a number of stelae (carved stone slabs) around it, including one showing the soles of nobles’ feet facing outward toward the viewer, “an unusual depiction otherwise featured only on a few Maya vases,” the researchers wrote in the study.

In addition, the researchers uncovered a 1.5-acre (0.6 hectares) courtyard called the Plaza Muk’ ul Ton, or Monuments Plaza, where people gathered for religious and political ceremonies.  The discovery marks a major step forward in the study of the ancient Maya world.

The researchers hope further analysis of the site’s architecture and detailed inscriptions will offer new insight into the politics, economy, rituals, and warfare of the Maya civilization’s western regions.  Going forward, the archaeologists plan to use lidar — or light detection and ranging — a tool that uses lasers and can be mounted on an airplane or drone to discover architecture and topography hidden under the dense jungle canopy.

The team is especially interested in how kingdoms such as Sak Tz’i’ managed to survive for so long, despite apparently never becoming as powerful as rival kingdoms in the region.