Evidence of the miserable life lived by the Maya during the Spanish conquest of the 16th century has emerged in an ancient settlement of Mexico’s east coast, as archaeologists unearthed dozens of infant skeletons with signs of malnutrition and acute anemia.
Found in the recently opened archaeological site of San Miguelito, in the middle of the hotel chain area of Quintana Roo, near Cancun, the human burials were excavated within 11 housing buildings dating to the Late Postclassic Mayan Period (1200 – 1550).
Archaeologists of the National Institute of Anthropology and History (INAH) estimate that at least 30 burials belong to infants between the ages of three and six. The majority suffered from hunger and most likely died of related diseases.
The 16th-century skeletons point to “a high infant mortality rate, probably derived from poor health and malnutrition,” archaeologist Sandra Elizalde said in a statement.
“Some infants were accompanied by very humble offerings, typical of an impoverished society. One of the burials contained a hummingbird-shaped figurine and another that of an old woman with perfectly detailed wrinkles on her face,” Elizalde said.
Strategically located at the entrance of the Nichupte Lagoon, San Miguelito was an important trading center in pre-Hispanic times (1200-1350 AD).
“The population exploited marine resources and the place thrived,” archaeologist Adriana Velazquez Morlet, director of the INAH Center in Quintana Roo, said.
Pre-hispanic structures built at that time in the settlement included the 26-foot-high by 39-foot-wide Great Pyramid, and other four architectural complexes called
South, Dragons, Chaac and North, where most of the burials were unearthed.
Things radically changed as the Spanish arrived to the Yucatan peninsula.
“The conquest was different from the rest of Mesoamerica because there were many scattered cities,” Velazquez Morlet said.
“It took the Spanish 20 years to conquer them all and when they did, they settled in the west (Yucatan and Campeche). All the eastern part of Mesoamerica suffered the consequences of severed Mayan trade routes,” she added.
Inevitably, San Miguelito was abandoned.
In addition to the infant burials, the archaeologists unearthed other 17 burials — some belong to adult individuals, while others are so fragmented they cannot be identified.
“Two of the 17 burials were placed in ceramic urns, while others were found with simple offerings, such as deer antlers, a knife and projectile tips,” Elizalde said.
The archaeologists also discovered fragments of a mural painting with fauna designs and marine elements, pottery, lithic tools and a two-inch earring, made of shell and engraved with the face of an individual.
Photo: 1. Infant bones showed signs of malnutrition. Credit: INAH
2. Figurine featuring an old woman with perfectly detailed wrinkles on her face. Credit: INAH.
3. Fragments of mural painting with fauna designs and marine elements. Credit: INAH.
4. A two-inch earring, made of shell and engraved with the face of an individual. Credit: INAH.