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Maya children’s handprints in cave linked to ancient coming-of-age ritual

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Posted: Sunday, May 2, 2021. 1:28 pm CST.

By Aaron Humes: 137 handprints found painted in black and red in a cave in the north of the Yucatan peninsula have been linked to a coming-of-age ritual of the ancient Maya, the Tribune of India reports.

Most were made by children near the end of the ancient Maya’s classical zenith, when major cities across present-day southern Mexico and Central America thrived amid major human achievements in math and art.

The cave is located near the northern tip of Mexico’s Yucatan peninsula, where the towering pyramids of urban centers like Uxmal and Chichen Itza still stand, and lies some 33 feet below a large ceiba tree, which the Maya consider sacred.

Archaeologist Sergio Grosjean, after analysis, concluded that the prints belonged to youngsters entering puberty, i.e. around the ages of 12 and 13. The black, he said, symbolized the ritual ‘death’ of childhood, and the red the coming rebirth of life as adults and the war to keep the culture alive.

Other Mayan artifacts found in the cave include a carved face and six painted relief sculptures, which date from between 800-1,000 A.D., a time when severe drought struck the region and may have contributed to the classical Maya’s sudden abandonment of major cities.

While the first Mayan settlements date back nearly 4,000 years, there were still large centers when Spanish conquerors arrived in the early 1500s.

Several million Maya continue to live in communities scattered across southeastern Mexican states like Chiapas and Campeche, in addition to Guatemala and Belize.

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