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BBC Travel highlights Belize’s ATM Cave as an eerie portal to the Maya underworld

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Posted: Tuesday, June 28, 2022. 11:29 am CST.

By BBN Staff: The Actun Tunichil Muknal (ATM) Cave, one of Belize’s most popular sacred caves is being featured on the BBC Travel website.

The article published by author Richard Collett shared details of how the ancient Maya utilized the ATM Cave in Belize as well as new research on how and why the Maya religious sacrifices were used to re-enact the Maya creation story.

The Actun Tunichil Muknal (ATM Cave) in the Cayo District marks the sacred entrance to Xibalba, the Maya underworld. For over 1,000 years, the cave remained undisturbed until locals discovered the entrance in 1986. Thereafter, researchers found skeletons inside and scientists continue to conduct studies inside the sacred cavern.

Travelers to Belize take a glimpse into Maya religion and society on their visits. However, specific details of Maya rituals and ceremonies remain a mystery.

But in 2021, 2 archeologists involved in the ATM excavations since 1990 introduced a new methodology for unraveling those mysteries.

According to the report, Professor Holley Moyes from the University of California and Belizean archaeologist Dr. Jaime J Awe explained how they’d been able to build an intricate picture of the religious ceremonies by studying the spatial layout of skeletons and artifacts left behind.

 They could tell where the Maya stood while the ceremonies unfolded, which mythical stories they re-enacted, which gods the Maya impersonated in rituals, and how the unlucky were sacrificed.

While there are no first-hand accounts of those ceremonies, this new theory brings their religious ceremonies to life.

Moyes and Awe posit that the Maya were staging elaborate, theatrical, and deadly re-enactments of the Popol Vuh, the Maya creation myth.

“The Maya started using caves around 1200 BCE when they first started moving into Belize,” Moyes shared citing that caves were integral to the Maya worldview.

 

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