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Grave findings at ancient Mexican site.

Grave findings at ancient Mexican site

Large burial pits unearthed around and inside a prehistoric Mexican pyramid provide important clues to the nature of a civilization contemporary with the Mayas and preceding the Aztecs by 1,000 years, according to anthropologist George Cowgill of Brandeis University in Waltham, Mass.

The 83 human skeletons found in the pits appear to be victims of a ritual sacrific, says Cowgill, who directed excavations last summer with Ruben Cabrera of Mexico's National Institute of Anthropology and History. The remains are located at Teotihuacan, an 8-square-mile site near Mexico City. The massive urban center had its beginnings around 100 B.C. and thrived until A.D. 750. At its peak, Teotihuacan contained as many as 200,000 people and its cultural influence spread throughout the region.

"We knew the Teotihuacanos occasionally made sacrifices, but this is the first time we've found large-scale sacrificial burials," Cowgill says.

In and around the pyramid, the researchers excavates four mass graves containing more than 40 skeletons. The first burial pit unearthed near the pyramid, known as the Feathered Serpent Pyramid, was discovered in 1983 by a graduate student now at Brandeis. In 1986, Mexican archaeologists uncovered another pit containing several dozen skeletons. Radiocarbon testing dates the remains to between A.D. 150 and 200.

Cowgill cites two major reasons for considering the remains sacrificed humans. First, the skeletons' hands are behind their backs with their wrists crossed, indicating they were forcibly bound. Also, many skeletons are clad in military attire, but there is no indication they suffered serious battle wounds.

Military garb includes marine-shell collars with imitation human jaws carved from shells and slate disks placed around the waist. The graves also hold obsidian spear points.

The victims were most likely sacrificed to honor a dead ruler buried within the pyramid, Cowgill says.

The burials support the theory that Teotihuacan culture can be divided into two periods, he notes. The first lasted until about A.D. 300 and is characterized by single, powerful rulers. After that, murals at the site mainly display communal activities and do not depit pre-eminent rulers.

Cowgill says he expects to find many more burials, and possibly the remains

of the ruler for whom the pyramid was built, when work continues next summer.
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Author:Bower, Bruce
Publication:Science News
Date:Dec 17, 1988
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