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Belize: The Underworld

Belize: The Underworld

The Underworld

Millions of years ago, rainwater began seeping through the limestone surface of the Earth in Belize carrying with it carbon dioxide from decaying plant material. This rainwater-carbon dioxide mix produced a weak acid that created a swiss cheese-like series of holes in the Earth. Over time, these holes became what we commonly refer to as caves.

Belize has a vast system of caves to explore. Tourists often visit at least one cave while in Belize. One might think that these caves are cramped and dark, but most are quite vast. There are even underground rivers that flow through these chambers, allowing visitors to lazily float through them via inner tube. But, what seems serene is actually quite eerie, especially when one hears that the Maya believed the caves were the entrances to the Underworld.

Actun Tunichil Muknal is, perhaps, Belize’s most famous cave. Actun Tunichil Muknal is quite the mouthful, so Belizeans and archaeologists simply call it “ATM”. Inside are some of the most important remains of the country’s ancient Mayan history and a rather gruesome attraction – the Crystal Maiden.

The Crystal Maiden is the skeleton of a teenage girl, possibly a sacrificial victim. Her bones now have a shimmering, crystallized appearance due to the carbon build up in the caves mentioned above. She has quite literally become part of the cave itself.

In general, the Maya used human sacrifice less frequently than other ancient people, such as the  Aztec However, there is evidence from multiple Maya sites, in Belize and throughout Central America, that human sacrifice did take place. Archaeologists can’t agree on the reasons behind human sacrifice for the Maya, but many think that it would have taken place when the Maya were experiencing widespread illness or drought. Sacrificing children was a rare occurrence, and would only happen if the Maya felt they needed to make a big gesture to the gods.

Kat

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