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Piramide des doods

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Onlangs brachten opgravingen in de 43 meter hoge maanpiramide van Teotihuacán vijf even weelderige als gruwelijke graven naar boven. Na het meeste zand en puin te hebben verwijderd, versterkten de archeologen de graven met stalen balken. Op de bodem stuitten ze op sporen van ware slachtingen: afgehakte hoofden en ander overblijfselen van vreemde krijgers en hoogwaardigheidsbekleders, vleesetende zoogdieren, roofvogels en dodelijke reptielen. Er zijn aanwijzingen dat alle slachtoffers ritueel werden gedood om de verschillende bouwstadia van de piramide in te wijden.

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Traversing Teotihuacan's ceremonial center, the Street of the Dead ends at the Pyramid of the Moon, a platform for public rituals and sacrifices that repeats the shape of a distant mountain. Recent excavations deep inside the pyramid have revealed the remains of people and animals—all probably buried alive or beheaded to dedicate a series of expansions that began in about A.D. 200. This adds a new dimension to our understanding of such structures.

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Sacred symbols of supernatural power, golden eagles shared the fate of a dozen men killed in a horrifying ritual likely witnessed by a crowd of thousands at the great urban center of Teotihuacan in about A.D. 300.

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Teotihuacan's military dominated portions of Mesoamerica with brutal force. Beneath excavation co-director Saburo Sugiyama lie the remains of ten men from about A.D. 300. Probably prisoners of war, they were made eternally submissive: With their hands tied behind them and stripped of all ornamentation, they were beheaded and thrown in a heap.

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The skulls of 17 men were unearthed in another mass grave. Likely prisoners of war, all of the victims were foreigners, as indicated by bone analysis and teeth inlaid with greenstone and pyrite.

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Discovered in the burial of A.D. 300, a puma was one of more than 40 sacrificial animals, most found with their legs bound.

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Scattered beads fill the mouth of a human sacrifice.

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Adorned with a necklace and earspools, a unique mosaic figurine of green-stone was likely a ritual object. "These offerings are like sentences," says archaeologist Leonardo López Luján, "but we don't have all the words, and we don't completely understand their sequence, so they're hard to read." Continuing work at Teotihuacan may fill in some of the gaps in surprising—and terrible—ways.

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Headless skeletons lie in a jumbled heap, just as they were dumped following a sacrificial ritual around A.D. 300. Ten in total, and all men, they were probably decapitated by a priest wielding a razor-sharp stone knife. Who they were remains a mystery, but all had their hands bound behind them—a sign they did not go willingly to their deaths. Two other men were also found in this burial. Both died with their hands bound, but they were richly adorned and were not decapitated. One wore an especially macabre necklace—a string of pendants, each made of shell squares that had been arranged like teeth into the shape of a human jaw.

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A symbol of power worn by the Maya elite, a pendant of solid jade adorned one of three men in a burial from A.D. 350. His companions wore fine necklaces and earspools that also linked them to the Maya. Unlike other sacrifices found in the pyramid—young men, maybe prisoners of war, bound and humiliated—these were older men, respectfully seated with their legs crossed and their hands on their knees. Were they Maya dignitaries brought especially to Teotihuacan to be interred in a sacred place?

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Inlays of pyrite and green stone adorn teeth from some of the 17 skulls that were the sole contents of a burial from A.D. 350. Such dental work was rare among the population of Teotihuacan, so the severed heads most likely came from foreigners offered up as sacrifices. Three types of cranial deformations and an isotope analysis of the bones indicate a variety of distant origins, from the coast of the Gulf of Mexico into the highlands of Guatemala. Were they prisoners of war? Traders? Emissaries from abroad? Archaeologists are still working to solve this and many other mysteries of the Pyramid of the Moon.

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