An intriguing and somewhat disturbing 2,400-year-old ritual grave containing 10 artfully arranged skeletons has been unearthed outside Mexico City.
The elaborate burial is the latest finding from a pre-Classical archaeological site within the borough of Tlalpan that has been excavated since 2006 by specialists from Mexico’s National Institute of Anthropology and History.
The remains are those of male and female young adults, plus one adult, one child, and a one-month-old infant, all found on their sides with their arms intertwined to form a large circle. Signs of intentional skull deformation were immediately observed on at least two bodies, according to National Geographic, as well as some notable tooth injuries.
Clay pots and bowls appear to have been placed beside them, and ceramic spheres and stones were placed in their hands. The grave is located about 1.2 meters (4 feet) into the ground, formerly underneath a building on the grounds of a Catholic university.
The team has not yet determined if the grave’s occupants died of natural causes or were killed as part of a ceremony or offering.
“We believe that it could be some interpretation of life, because individuals have different ages: There is a baby, a child, an infant, some young adults, adults, and an older adult,” said project leader Jimena Rivera to the website Noticieros Televisa.
At least 20 other trunk-shaped grave pits have been detected at the Tlalpan dig.
Little is known about the civilization these individuals belonged to. Predating the later Aztec culture by nearly 2,000 years, researchers believe the Tlalpan village is one of the earliest human settlements in the area. Findings from previous digs at the site suggest this community flourished for about 500 years between the Zacatenco and Ticoman phases in Mesoamerican history.
At around the same time, the massive Olmec empire was flourishing along the Gulf of Mexico. Yet, as was the fate of many once-powerful indigenous groups, both the Tlalpans and Olmecs declined mysteriously.
Overall, modern-day Mexico has been inhabited by humans for at least 13,000 years, judging by a skull that was found under the Mexico City international airport. The rich history translates into a staggering amount of artifacts, structures, and bones that continue to be discovered on a regular basis.
Last summer, an Aztec temple dated to 1481 was excavated next to Zócalo, a central square in Mexico City that was also the main ceremonial center of the Aztec city Tenochtitlan. The worship site appears to be dedicated to the wind god Ehécatl, believed to have breathed life into humankind. Severed neck vertebrae were uncovered on the ancient grounds near a ball court, originating from infant- to adolescent-aged individuals who were likely decapitated as part of a ritual sacrifice.
[H/T: National Geographic]