The Mayans which lived in the area of Lake Peten Itza in Guatemala had been known to make animal and human sacrifices but a recent discovery by Polish divers and researchers indicate that blood sacrifices were made for close to a thousand years, especially when they faced war with their Spanish conquerors in 1697.
The Mayan civilization extended across modern southeast Mexico, Guatemala, Belize, and parts of Honduras and El Salvador.
Peten Itza was the last bastion of the Maya with its inhabitants defying the Conquistadors for almost two-hundred years and it did not fall to the Spanish until the 1690s.
It has been well documented by historians that in the early 1620s, when a Spanish party received permission to visit Nojpeten, they were led by friar Diego Delgado who was accompanied by 13 Spanish soldiers and 80 Mayan guides from Tipu, now in Belize, who had converted to Christianity. The party was seized when they arrived at Nojpeten and sacrificed with their hearts cut out. They were then decapitated and their heads displayed on stakes around the city. Delgado was dismembered.
The lake surrounds an island called Flores that was once the site of the Maya city of Nojpeten. It was linked by a causeway to the shore. It's believed that some of the sacrifices were done prior to many of the battles with their enemies, especially the Conquistadors who leveled the city with the use of canons.
Hundreds of artifacts have been recovered beneath the waters of the lake including an obsidian knife that could have been the killing instrument used to dispatch the sacrificial victims. The Maya often used these knives to cut the heart out of living victims in a way very reminiscent of the Aztecs.
According to the team leader Magdalena Krzemień, of Poland’s Jagiellonian University, “Water had very special and symbolic meaning in ancient Maya beliefs. It was thought to be the door to the underworld, the world of death – Xibalba, where their gods live". The Mayans believed that bodies of water were the gateways to the underworld. Evidence of offerings including animal and human sacrifice have been found in lakes and in flooded limestone sinkholes known as cenotes, which are common in the region.
The researchers believe the Itza Maya group lowered the artifacts into the lake as an offering to their god which is why they are so well preserved. The ceremonial relics from the lake-bed are pre-Columbian, dating from 150BC up to 800AD.
The divers found grisly skull-shaped incense burners, shells, and ceremonial bowls. It is believed that the shells that were found, which were imported from the Caribbean.
Another god which the Mayans made human sacrifice to was one of their most ancient ones named Chaac, which controlled rain, lightening and storms. For a culture that rain-dependent for their agriculture a drought was greatly feared.
Chaac is portrayed as a blend of human and animal characteristics. He has reptilian attributes and fish scales, a long curly nose, and a protruding lower lip. He holds the stone ax used to produce lightning and wears an elaborate headdress.
Ceremonies to Chaac were held in each Maya city, and rituals were held in the fields in public settings such as plazas. Sacrifices of young boys and girls were carried out in especially dramatic periods, such as after a prolonged period of drought.
In the sacrificial cenote of Chichén Itzá, for example, people were thrown and left to drown there, accompanied by precious offerings of gold and jade. In 2008, archaeologists found the Mayans were likely sacrificing young boys and not virginal girls as previously believed. They were thrown alive to drown to please Chaac, or ritually skinned or dismembered before being offered to the deity
Archeologist Guillermo de Anda from the University of Yucatan pieced together the bones of 127 bodies discovered at the bottom of one of Chichen Itza’s sacred caves and found over 80 percent were likely boys between the ages of 3 and 11. It's suspected that these children were stolen from surroundings settlements to be used as sacrifices.
According to de Anda, "It was thought that the gods preferred small things and especially the rain god had four helpers that were represented as tiny people, so the children were offered as a way to directly communicate with Chaac".
Despite their prayers and in some cases blood offerings it appears that the Mayan gods were not appeased and eventually the culture was decimated and the cities were abandoned to be reclaimed by the jungle.
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