The Crystal Maiden
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In my final year (2006) supervising excavations at a Classic Maya site in West Central Belize I was invited to accompany members of Belize’s Institute of Archaeology and explore the recently discovered cave Actun Tunichil Mukal (the Cave of the Stone Sepulcher). The cave, which ushers forth a small tributary of Roaring Creek, is followed in complete darkness some 600+ meters in chest high water until a large dry cavern opens up several meters above the water line. The ancient Maya began visiting this chamber 2000 years ago, but their ritual activity in the cave reached its zenith in the Terminal Classic (800-1000 AD). These later rituals, which correspond to the tumultuous times of the “Maya Collapse”, included a new type of offering intended to stave off the impending deterioration of their society; human sacrifices. To date, fourteen skeletons have been discovered in the cave. The most spectacular is the Crystal Maiden, whose deposition lends the cave its name. The Crystal Maiden’s bones have been cemented to the cave floor by brown calcite. A woman of about 20 when she entered the cave, it appears she was clubbed and left in the most remote corner of the chamber.