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Mexico. The remains of over a hundred children in an underground tank. Were they poisoned?

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All of the more than a hundred children sacrificed and buried in the pre-Columbian Mayan city of Chichen Itza in Mexico were male, new research shows. This is a big surprise for scientists: similar Mayan burials most often contained the remains of either only young women, or women and men.

The remains of over a hundred children were found in 1967 by archaeologists in a chultun, an underground tank used to collect water, including rainwater. Now DNA obtained from the skulls of 64 people has allowed us to obtain more information. Geneticists concluded that all the people buried in the chultun were male, and a quarter of them were closely related to each other.

What is known about those buried in the mass grave

The remains of two sets of twins were also found in the mass grave. According to a paper published on Nature magazine's website on June 12, most of the boys were aged between three and six and were buried between the 7th century and the mid-12th century AD.

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– It's amazing! – admitted the co-author of the new publication, Oana Del Castillo-Chavez from the National Institute of Anthropology and History in Mexico, commenting on the fact that all those buried were boys and some of them were related. Why are scientists surprised? Similar Mayan burials most often contained the remains of either only young women or women and men. This was the case with the tomb called the Sacred Cenote, also located at Chichen Itza. Making such sacrifices was associated with requests for fertility.

SEE ALSO: An extraordinary discovery in Greece. The government called a meeting

How the children died

According to the main author of the publication, Rodrigo Barquera from the Max Planck Institute for Evolutionary Anthropology in Germanythe close relationship of people may mean “that only certain families had access to this tomb and that not everyone could place their children in it – this was a great honor.”

Investigators have not yet determined how the children died. – When examining the bones, we did not find any signs of trauma, so they were not thrown into the chamber – Barquera told Live Science, adding that further analysis could help determine whether they were poisoned.

Relief of human skulls, Chichen ItzaShutterstock

According to Barquer, in the case of the boys' burial, this may mean that offerings were made to the gods asking for better crops or rainfall. He does not rule out that it was also a monument in honor of the twin heroes who, in Mayan beliefs, were to go to the underworld to avenge their father.

SEE ALSO: Bloody rituals that were meant to extend the summer. What happened at “Stonehenge of the Sea”

The DNA of the victims was compared with the DNA of modern Mexicans

The authors of the study also compared the DNA of the victims with the DNA of modern Mexicans who live on the Yucatan Peninsula and the Chichen Itza area. They noted that the current living population has a higher prevalence of genes associated with resistance to the Salmonella enterica bacterium than the sacrificed children. This is intended to confirm the hypothesis that the epidemics that occurred during the colonial period contributed to an increase in the number of these genes in the population – the scientists write in the article.

Chichen Itza, a UNESCO World Heritage Site, is one of Mexico's most popular tourist attractions. Over two million people visit this place every year. One of the main structures of the city ruins is the pyramid of the god Kukulkan.

Chichen Itza Shutterstock

SEE ALSO: Another spectacular discovery at the excavations in Pompeii

Main photo source: Shutterstock

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