DNA analysis revealed whether there was child sacrifice in the Maya Empire

15.06.2024/18/30 XNUMX:XNUMX    14

During the heyday of the Maya empire, human child sacrifices seem to have been carefully selected. According to a new analysis of ancient DNA led by researchers at the Max Planck Institute for Evolutionary Anthropology, the chosen victims have something in common. The remains of 64 people found inside an underground chamber known as chultun, all belonged to young men, many of whom were close relatives. Among them are two pairs of identical twins.

This discovery contradicts the generally accepted notion that the victims of sacrifices were, as a rule, young girls. This is important information about child victims at Chichen Itza, deep in the heart of Mexico's Yucatan Peninsula.

"The male children's similar age and diet, their close genetic relationship, and the fact that they were buried in the same location for over 200 years indicate that chultun is a post-sacrificial burial place where sacrificed individuals were buried. chosen for a reason,” says archaeologist Oana Del Castillo-Chávez of the Centro INAH Yucatán.

We know about the tragic fate of children in chubby since 1967, when excavations revealed the chamber and its terrible secrets. It was probably once a water cistern, chultun was extended to connect with a nearby cave, a type of natural feature known to be associated with ritual sacrifices.

Detail of tsompantli , which was used to display the heads, in the center of Chichen Itza. (Christina Warriner)

The remains of more than 100 children lie in the cell. But the gender of minors is difficult to determine only by the shape of the bones, so the opinion that the victims were female cannot be doubted. However, evidence has recently emerged that at least some of the victims were men. And with more sophisticated technology, we have been able to obtain and sequence ancient DNA that was previously impossible to study.

Led by immunogeneticist Rodrigo Barker, a team of researchers set out to study the Chichen Itza bones to learn and share the stories of the children they belonged to. The first step was getting to know each other. It showed that chultun was used to bury human remains for more than 500 years, from the 7th to the 12th century AD. Most of the remains, however, were deposited over a 200-year period, between 800 and 1000 AD – the heyday of the Chichen Itza culture.

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The researchers then analyzed the bones of the 64 individuals, including genetic and isotope ratio analysis derived from bone collagen.

Isotopic analysis revealed not only what the children ate, but also the source of that food. Previous studies have shown that some of the children were brought from elsewhere, leading researchers to wonder where they came from. Since elements such as carbon and nitrogen in their diet would replace some of the material from which their collagen is formed, the ratio of these isotopes in their remains could be related to the location of the food source.

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The big surprise was that all the children ate food that could be found locally, meaning they were all from local communities. But there were even more surprises. All the bones examined were from male children, and at least a quarter of them were close relatives and had a similar diet, suggesting they lived in the same household.

"The most surprising thing is that we have identified two pairs of identical twins," says archaeogeneticist Kathryn Naegele of the Max Planck Institute for Evolutionary Anthropology. "We can say this with confidence because our sampling strategy ensured that we did not duplicate people."

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This suggests that boys were likely chosen in pairs for the rituals, the researchers said, with twins perhaps being particularly desirable. Identical twins occur by chance in only 0,4 percent of the general population, so two pairs in chubby is more than expected.

Mayan sacred text "Popol Vuh" tells the story of the twin heroes Hunahpu and Shbalanke, who avenge the sacrificial deaths of their father and uncle, who are themselves twins, by going through repeated cycles of ritual sacrifice and resurrection to trick the gods of the underworld. .

"Reports from the early 20th century falsely popularized horrific stories of young women and girls being sacrificed at the site," says anthropologist Christina Warinner of Harvard University.

"This research, carried out as part of a close international collaboration, turns this history on its head and reveals the deep connections between ritual sacrifice and the cycles of human death and rebirth described in the sacred texts of the Maya." The study was published in Nature.