Blue Fibers on Teeth May Be Clues on Mayan Deaths

Study suggests sacrifice victims might have been gagged in advance
By John Johnson,  Newser Staff
Posted Oct 10, 2022 3:51 PM CDT
Blue Fibers on Teeth May Be Clues on Mayan Deaths
File photo of Mayan art.   (Getty / Jun)

Researchers studying the teeth of ancient victims of Mayan human sacrifice in Belize found something unexpected: blue fibers. And a new study offers an intriguing, if grim, theory about their presence—the sacrifice victims might have been gagged before death, reports Live Science. A story about this at Heritage Daily paints a picture, describing the possibility of such victims gagged with ceremonial blue cloths as they "were paraded from town to town over an extended period of time."

For the study published in the International Journal of Osteoarchaeology, lead author Amy Chan of California State University, Los Angeles, scraped the teeth of some of the approximately 120 human-sacrifice victims found in what is now called the Midnight Terror Cave, then had the resulting "dental calculus" analyzed. "The discovery of blue cotton fibers in both samples was a surprise," Chan tells Live Science, in part because "blue is important in Maya ritual."

The researchers make clear the theory about the gags is speculative—alternatively, the "fibers could be from consuming a blue-dyed pulque," or they "could also have been introduced during utilitarian activities or through some form of dentistry," the study itself suggests. One outside expert quoted at Live Science suggests further study of the dental calculus of both elites and non-elites to see if the fibers are consistent with sacrifice victims. Those in the cave were thought to have been killed between between AD 250 and AD 925, likely in homage to the rain deity Chaak, per Heritage Daily. (More Mayans stories.)

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