Photos: A Sacred Cenote Used to “Return the Dead to the Place of Origin”

The more they find out about the ancient Mayan civilization, the more impressive it is to be right here in the heart of it and see the sacred places of these people.


National Geographic recently published an article about a cenote, a large sinkhole leading into an underground river/cavern system, in Yucatan. The cenote seems to have been used a burial place for the bodies of nobility, as attested to in the ancient Mayan writings.  The idea was that the people had originated from the cenotes, and that they were returning them to their place of origin:


“The work has already yielded significant new insights into the cenote that many here still believe is guarded by a large serpent, that some say has feathers and the head of a horse.


“We have located 15 human crania and a large number of other bones, attesting to the use of the site as a burial location. Some of the remains are as delicate as small finger bones, sternums and a patella (knee cap). Indications are that there are many more bones located below the heavy silt that blankets much of the floor of the feature.


“Early data suggests that the site contains burials of both sexes and a range of ages from young adult and up. Ceramic fragments from water jars and a plate show a mix of Preclassic and Postclassic Maya use of the cenote. We have recovered a small sample of the bones (two femurs, a mandible and a tibia) that we will used to gain radiocarbon dates for the burials themselves.”


Here are some pictures of the cenotes and the discoveries:

Diving down into a cenote is purely magical; it’s easy to see why the Mayans connected these places to the underworld and afterlife, so dark and isolated, yet teaming with a secret life of their own.  This is part of why living in Mexico is so cool!


Read the entire National Geographic article here.


-by Bea Lozano