Maya sacrificial victims found in the ‘Midnight Terror Cave’ may have been gagged

Blue fibres found in the dental calculus from Maya sacrificial victims in the ‘Midnight Terror Cave’ suggests that they were gagged.

The Midnight Terror Cave is a cave near Springfield in the Cayo District of Belize, named by the nearby Mennonite community who rescued a looter injured in a fall in 2006.

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The cave was Surveyed in 2008 by the California State University, revealing the comingled remains of at least 118 Maya sacrificial victims from the Classic Period (AD 250 to AD 925), one of the largest sacrificial assemblages ever discovered in the Maya Lowlands.

It is thought that the Maya conducted sacrifices at the cave in worship of Chaak, the Maya rain deity, who often appears with his lightning axe which is used to strike the clouds and produce thunder and rain.

The study, now published in the International Journal of Osteoarchaeology, looked to determine what the victims were consuming by conducting a microscopic analysis on the dental calculus from the teeth. Samples were sent to the PaleoResearch Institute for analysis where they were examined for pollen, phytoliths, starches, and other inclusions.

Both samples contained blue cotton fibres encased within the calculus that were introduced several days or weeks prior to death. The colour could be attributed to the Maya blue pigment, often used in ceremonies, and is associated with victims who were painted blue prior to sacrifice.

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This is the first instance of Maya blue fibres being reported in the dental calculus of ancient Maya individuals. The researchers suggest that the fibres could be coloured from consuming a blue-dyed pulque, an alcoholic beverage made from the fermented sap of the maguey (agave) plant, commonly consumed during festivals, by priests, and sacrificial victims to ease their suffering.

Another explanation is that the fibres were present because of gags, as the victims were paraded from town to town over an extended period of time, causing the fibres to become incorporated in the calculus before the victims were sacrificed.

Evidence to support this can be found when comparing the remains of four sacrificed individuals discovered during the investigation of the Pyramid of the Moon at Teotihuacan, in which four sacrificed individuals were previously discovered with the remains of gags in their mouths.

Header Image Credit : Linda Scott Cummings/PaleoResearch Institute


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Mark Milligan
Mark Milligan
Mark Milligan is multi-award-winning journalist and the Managing Editor at HeritageDaily. His background is in archaeology and computer science, having written over 7,500 articles across several online publications. Mark is a member of the Association of British Science Writers (ABSW), the World Federation of Science Journalists, and in 2023 was the recipient of the British Citizen Award for Education, the BCA Medal of Honour, and the UK Prime Minister's Points of Light Award.

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