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The entrance to Actun Tunichil Muknal (167/Kelley Miller/Ocean/Corbis)

You Can Visit A Cave Where the Ancient Maya Sacrificed Humans

In Belize, the Actun Tunichil Muknal cave is an eerie experience for visitors

smithsonian.com

If you’re looking for a last minute summer vacation, why not take a tropical vacation to Belize to visit a place of ritual human sacrifice?

That would be the Actun Tunichil Muknal Natural Monument, where, the Daily Beast writes, archaeologists have uncovered evidence of human use dating from around 250 A.D. to 909 A.D. According to the Belize Audubon Society, the ancient Maya people believed that the cave was home to gods who controlled agriculture and rain. The name Actun Tunichil Muknal means Cave of the Crystal Sepulchre.

The cave is in roughly the same condition it was in when it was discovered in 1989. From the Beast:

Pottery and sacrificial tools naturally cemented to the ground or hidden around the cave’s stalagmites and layers also offer evidence. The “Stelae Chamber” boasts two stone markers, thought to be where high-level community leaders performed rituals to the gods. Sharp rock blades found nearby indicate they cut themselves to offer their own blood. Ancient bowls feature so-called “kill holes,” possibly to drain blood or allow a spirit to escape. One less sinister piece of pottery, known as the “Monkey Pot” for a primate decoration near the rim, drew attention as one among only four ever discovered in Central America.

Then there are the remains of the sacrificial victims. In the main room, seven adults and seven children can still be seen, their bones cemented to the cave floor over the centuries. Another victim known as the Crystal Maiden is in a different portion of the cave. After her murder—experts believe she was clubbed to death—her bones became encased in calcite crystals.  

While (thankfully) the practice of human sacrifice stopped a long time ago, getting to the cave is still something of a challenge. You do have to be in good physical condition to swim to its opening, and only two tour operators are permitted to guide visitors to the national monument. 

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