Where the Maya Performed Human Sacrifices

There is a cave in Belize where you can see the remains of ancient Maya human sacrifices


The unique geology of Belize includes a thick layer of limestone perfect for the creation of caves both small and large. Located far from the popular tourist attractions in the middle of thick jungle, Actun Tunichil Muknal (ATM) Cave is one of the most interesting historical discoveries ever made in Belize. Abandoned before the arrival of Europeans, the cave lay undisturbed for more than a millennia until it was rediscovered in 1989.

The only way to enter this cave is by swimming across a crystal clear spring-fed pool. From there, intrepid travelers must make their way half a mile up a shallow river until the cave opens up into an enormous labyrinth with soaring caverns replete with glittering stalactites and stalagmites. Those who dare to enter this sacred space can marvel at the wealth of ceremonial ceramics on display as well as an enormous altar that gave the cave one of its many nicknames.

But it is what lies even further deeper into the cave that entices brave travelers to make their way past gigantic car-sized boulders. After scampering up slippery ledges, visitors can see skeletons of the men, women, and children sacrificed more than 1,000 years ago by ancient Maya priests. Normally, the Maya offered grains and other foodstuffs to their gods, but a combination of failing crops, constant warfare, and civil unrest between 800-900 AD forced the Maya to make the ultimate sacrifice: human life.

The skeletal remains of more than a dozen people have their final resting place deep within the bowels of ATM Cave, including its most famous denizen, the "Crystal Maiden" so called because her bones have fused with the minerals in the cave and now reflect an otherworldly glitter. Many of the other bones in the area belong to very young children, including some as young as 1 year old. Disturbingly, there are also bones belonging to a teenager whom archeologists believe was tied and bound before being sacrificed. Some of the skulls have a strange shape due to ritual deformations, giving them the eerie appearance of aliens. Archeologists have determined that most of the sacrificed victims in ATM Cave were killed by blunt force trauma to the head. Indeed, many of the skulls have been crushed. Other artifacts that can still be seen in the cave include carvings of faces and animals as well as ritual objects like obsidian blades and ceremonial vessels for holding offerings.

Due to the historical importance of the cave and the important relics located within, only licensed tour guides are allowed to bring visitors to the cave. If you feel that you are up to the challenge of visiting this unique sacred space, book your tour with Caves Branch today.


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