A bioarchaeological analysis of sacrificial victims from a Postclassic Maya temple from Ixlú, Petén, Guatemala

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Excavations at the site of Ixlú in northern Guatemala recovered a series of skulls and dismembered postcrania from a Postclassic (ca. A.D. 1000—1525) Maya temple. The current study considers demography, taphonomy (including mortuary processing), cultural modification and biological distance among the remains in light of ethnohistoric and archaeological data. Doing so addresses who made the deposits, why they were made, and who was interred, and informs on the use of ritual violence in the Postclassic Southern Lowlands. Six skulls were arranged in pairs on the east-west midline of the building, and fifteen skulls were placed in rows in the center of the building. All of the skulls faced east. Four postcrania were placed perpendicular to the skull rows. The skulls and postcrania were primarily late adolescent to young adult males. Three of the individuals exhibited a rare dental trait, supernumerary teeth, indicating that at least some of the individuals were related. The most likely scenario to account for the deposits is that the Itzá, a dominant political group in the area, sacrificed enemy combatants drawn from raiding and buried them as a part of a dedicatory ritual in the temple.