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The Midnight Terror Cave of Maya Child-Trafficking and Sacrifice

A cave in Belize has earned the name Midnight Terror Cave. In 2006, it was discovered to contain many thousands of human bones, and tests on teeth found indicate that they were children. Further tests indicate that those children were not local to the area. Could it be a case of human trafficking in order to supply sacrifices to the gods for rain? Collectors Weekly put together the story of the cave by talking to Dr. James Brady and Dr. Jaime Awe, who excavated the cave; Samantha Lorenz, who is writing her thesis on the project; Dr. Naomi Marks, who investigated the teeth, and Dr. James Doyle, curator of Mesoamerican artifacts from the Metropolitan Museum of Art.  

“Various ethno-historic information from the Spanish suggest that if children were orphaned or something like that, the kids were snatched up immediately and used as sacrificial victims,” Brady says. “So we know that sacrifice victims also came from within a society. But if you’re sacrificing people on a large scale and you’re only drawing from within your own society, that could cause some real social unrest, which is why capturing warriors or importing victims from another kingdom probably came to be preferred. But we have no hard data on this yet for the entire Maya area.”

That may change as more teeth like the ones from the Midnight Terror Cave are tested for their strontium isotopic signatures. If those teeth are any indication of data to come, scientists and the general public may not like what they learn.

“Anything dealing with the sacrifice of children is going to be difficult to look at,” says Lorenz. “But it definitely piques my interest in the Maya culture, and makes me want to understand what would have been happening at that time to support a worldview in which children could be basically taken from their homes and sacrificed for what I would imagine was a belief in a greater good.”

Read how the Midnight Terror Cave was discovered, and the research that went into its story, at Collectors Weekly.

(Image credit: Cal State L.A.)

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I remember something that a Latin American history professor taught me in college.

During the early years of the Spanish conquest of Central America, a Spanish expeditionary force made contact with a Maya tribe. They tried to convert the conquered Maya to Christianity and end the practice of human sacrifice, but translation problems got in the way.

During their efforts, Spanish missionaries showed crucifixes to the Maya. The Maya responded by thinking, "Oh, so that's how they want us to sacrifice people!" So they began crucifying their victims, to the horror of the Spanish.
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