The Maya believed that caves were the entrances to Xibalba. Archaeologists have been surveying the many openings to the underworld where they are finding ancient offerings to the gods, from broken pottery to human remains.
In the study, researchers survey 53 caves in central Belize, such as nearby Chechem Ha Cave, where teams mapped nearly 1000 feet of cave and sifted out a central chamber. They compared charcoal dates left by torches to large jars left behind to find that more elaborate gifts were left at the most intense periods without rain, evidence of a “drought cult,” Awe says. “They were asking for more water from caves seen as a water source and home of the gods.”
When things got really tough, human sacrifices turn up in caves like Actun Tunichil Muknal, best known for its “Crystal Maiden” skeleton — a woman sacrificed here and left behind, her bones glistening with the limestone that cements her and many other sacrifices to the floor. “They were likely war captives, captured and brought here to be killed on the spot,” Awe says. “When things get hard, people take more extreme steps,” he proposes.