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Chichén Itzá: The Cenote of Sacrifice


The Cenote of Sacrifice, largest of two natural sinkholes at Chichén Itzá, was used as a sacred site in the Late Classic (AD 600-950) and Postclassic (AD 1000-1550) periods, and on into post-contact times. Landa (1566) describes sacrifices at the cenote still occurring in the mid 16th century, with people cast to the Chacs or rain gods:

“Into this well they have had and still have the custom of throwing men alive as a sacrifice to their gods in time of drought, and they believed they would not die, although they never saw them again. They also threw into it many other things like precious stones and things they prized...."

In 1904-7 the Cenote of Sacrifice  was dredged by Edward H. Thompson, American consul at Mérida, with funding from the Peabody Museum at Harvard. The Sacred Cenote at Chichén Itzá has been explored since the 1960s by several groups of Mexican and American divers and archaeologists. Among many thousands of items found include pottery incensarios, bowls with offerings of copal incense studded with jade beads; flint and obsidian arrowheads and blades; copper chisels and incised copper disks; cloth; carved wood and jade; and bells, disks, and masks of gold, mostly imported from Panama and Costa Rica. Also recovered were skeletons of young girls and old men, perhaps confirming the16th century accounts of sacrificial victims.

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[Fig.1: Cenote of Sacrifice at Chichen Itza (photo: Athena Review).]

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