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Archaeologists discover ancient human remains inside sealed chamber in Tulum

Tulum, Q.R. — Archaeologists have made a new discovery of human bones within a walled area located in Tulum. The finding was made by the National Institute of Anthropology and History (INAH) personnel during an excavation.

Archaeologists made the finding after coming upon the remains of a walled area that was sealed with a large rock. Inside were human bone remains which, so far, correspond to eight adults.

A walled area with an underground chamber was found during a recent excavation in Tulum.
Photo: INAH December 18, 2023.

“The discovery was recorded during the work of liberating areas for the creation of a new path located between buildings 21 (Temple of the Columns) and 25 (Temple of Halach Uinic),” the INAH detailed in a statement.

The coordinator of the archaeological research project, José Antonio Reyes Solís, reported that in the upper part of the front wall of the cave, a sea snail was found glued with stucco to the bedrock as part of a decoration made by the pre-Hispanic Mayans.

“When removing the rock that closed the entrance to the cavity, it was observed that it was literally splitting the bone remains of an individual, leaving the lower part of his body on the outside and the upper part inside it.”

As the exploration of the cave progressed, he said, it was identified that the topography showed at least two small chambers located in the southern and northern parts, no more than 3 meters long by 2 meters wide, and an average height of 50 centimeters.

The opening to the chamber is very small and was found sealed with a large rock. Photo: INAH December 18, 2023.

Within these chambers, so far, eight burials have been recorded, mostly adults, which are in good condition due to the environmental conditions inside the space. These osteological materials are being analyzed and investigated in the laboratories of the INAH Quintana Roo Center, by the head of the Department of Physical Anthropology, Allan Ortega Muñoz.

Likewise, a large number of skeletal remains of animals associated with the burials were recorded. According to the specialists in fauna identification, who collaborate on the project, Jerónimo Avilés and Cristian Sánchez, they correspond, in a preliminary manner, to various mammals (domestic dog, mouse, opossum, blood-sucking bat, white-tailed deer, tepezcuintle, armadillo nine banded, tapir, peccary), birds of the order Galliforme, Passeriforme, Pelecaniforme, Piciforme and Charadriiforme, reptiles (loggerhead sea turtle, land turtle and iguana), fish (tiger shark, barracuda, grouper, drum fish, puffer fish, eagle ray); crustaceans (crab and cirripedians), mollusks (snail) and amphibians (frog).

Some bones have cut marks and others have been worked as artifacts, like punches, needles or fan handles, characteristic of the area.

Bones corresponding to at least eight adults was found inside along with animal remains. Photo: INAH December 18, 2023.

Although a significant number of ceramic fragments, characteristic of the Late Postclassic period (1200-1550 AD), have been located associated with these burials, only three individuals can be directly linked to a small molcajete of the Papacal Inciso type, with hollow semiglobular supports.

This ceramic element has been intervened by restoration specialist Carolina Segura Carrillo, who is part of the conservation team at Promeza in Tulum, under the direction of restorer Patricia Meehan Hermanson.

According to archaeologist Antonio Reyes Solís, the archaeological excavation work inside the cave chambers, the three-dimensional record of the context and photography of the archaeological elements located inside as well as the space that contains them, has represented a challenge for the team because the work area is extremely small.

The remains were found scattered in the small chamber, which has posed a collection challenge for archaeologists due to the cramped space. Photo: INAH December 18, 2023.

He said the lighting is also almost non-existent, the temperature and humidity are high and the insects that inhabit the cave complicate the activities.

However, with the support and adaptation of new technologies for the registration of this type of context, such as the use of laser scanners and high-resolution photography, the preservation of the cave and the archaeological elements associated with it can be ensured.

3D models will be generated with a high degree of detail and precision, he noted.

These virtual products of the archaeological context will allow the analysis and processing of field data to continue from a computer and make available to the public a virtual tour of the interior of the cave, where the context in situ of the archaeological materials can be observed, through a digital viewfinder or a mobile phone application.

Field research work will continue for the remainder of the year, he said.