Decapitated skulls — full of cavities and gems — from ancient Maya uncovered in Mexico

Over 1,000 years ago, multiple Mayan men were decapitated at a temple in modern-day Mexico.

Now, archaeologists have unearthed their skulls, shedding light on the culture and health of the Mayans, a people who once inhabited a wide swath of Latin America.

The remains were uncovered at the Moral-Reforma Archaeological Site in the jungle of southeastern Mexico, according to an Aug. 23 news release from the National Institute of Anthropology and History (INAH).

Five skulls, in addition to fragments of other bones, were found buried under less than a foot of soil. All of them belonged to males between 17 and 45 years of age.

Based on observed cut marks, archaeologists determined at least two of the men had been decapitated at a nearby temple during the Late Classic Period, which lasted from 600 to 900 A.D.

Additionally, all five skulls were elongated, indicating the men had their heads artificially deformed at a young age. The practice, which would have been accomplished through splinting, was typically associated with the upper echelons of Mayan society.

Cranial modification may have been done to prevent infants from falling ill and to emulate Mayan gods portrayed as having long heads, according to a study published in the Journal of Anthropological Sciences.

Three of the skulls also contained dental cavities, indicating the men regularly consumed carbohydrates, likely from corn, archaeologists said. One of the skulls also contained a jade stone embedded in a tooth.

Dental modification was common among the Mayans and was practiced among people of varying social status, according to the book “Ancient Maya Teeth.” People polished, filed and drilled their teeth, sometimes attaching decorated pieces of pyrite and jade.

The remains of more than 40 Mayans have been uncovered at the archaeological site during the most recent excavation season, archaeologists said.

Google Translate was used to translate a news release from INAH.

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