INAH finds crypt in Toniná, Chiapas, which reveals cremation rites of rulers

After the investigation work on the corpses of at least a couple of rulers, as well as that of a lady from Toniná, in the ancient Mayan kingdom of Po’p that rivaled Palenque in the Maya Classic period (500-687 AD), there has been talk about the probability that these remains would have been subjected to a religious ceremony to reduce them to ashes and that, in turn, its remains have served to make rubber balls used on the Ball Game courta symbolic space of the ecliptic path of the sky, where the stars travel and face each other, a space of war and death, of spectacle and power.

A stone cap with the representation of a bound captive is the entrance to one of the crypts of the Mayan rulers. Photo: INAH

The crypts of the rulers inside the pyramids

Such a hypothesis is raised by the researcher from the National Institute of Anthropology and History (INAH), Juan Yadeun Angulo, after the discovery, in 2020, of a crypt of Mexican ancestors in the Temple of the Sun, the most important pyramidal structure in this archaeological zone. of the Ocosingo valley, in Chiapas, and the study of the archaeological context that it protected, in which More than 400 vessels stood out containing organic material, such as ashes, charcoal, rubber and roots.

The person in charge of the investigation and conservation of the site, for 42 years, narrates that the registration of that space derived from the recent explorations on the north side of said temple, carried out by the Ministry of Culture of the Government of Mexico, through the INAH , during whiche located a stone lid, 90 by 60 centimeters, with the representation of a bound captive, which was taken to the site museum and replaced on the spot by a replica.

After removing the stone cover, one of the crypts of Mayan rulers is discovered at a depth of 8 meters. Photo: INAH

As in a labyrinth, the underlying stone mouth led to a series of small vaults and rooms connected by stairs with a dozen steps, ending in an antechamber and a crypt, located 8 meters deep. inside the pyramid, sites that were conceived between the 7th and 8th centuries, before the construction explosion that would give shape to the temple.

Yadeun Angulo indicates that the antechamber, measuring 1.34 by 1.64 meters and 1.34 meters high, and the crypt, 1.34 by 1.34 meters and 1.10 meters high, They are small dwellings, where the vessels with human ashes and the oily touch that remains on their walls over thirteen centuries were found..

The crypt of one of the Mayan rulers leads to an antechamber. Photo: INAH

The microscopic analysis of the organic matter contained in these crude and monochrome pieces reveals that specialized people, possibly priests, undertook the combustion of the inert bodies of high-ranking personalities, and that the sulfur from the ashes, the third most abundant mineral depending on the percentage of the total body weight, it was used for the vulcanization of rubber, with which the balls used in the rite of Ball game.

Antechamber of a crypt of a Mayan ruler where there were more than 400 vessels with human ashes and remains of charcoal, rubber and roots. Photo: INAH

Unlike other ancient cultures, including the Egyptian, which preserved the body of their ancestors through mummification, in Mesoamerica the remains of the y the rulers were cremated, not necessarily until its total reduction to ashes, since some parts of the body contained a particular power for being related to certain deities. Thus, funerary bundles were formed with the remains, relics that the lineages kept and took with them if they were displaced.

In this sense, the sculptural discourse of the Ball Court of the site, in which the sculptures of the three markers that delimit the interior and the floor of the court stand out.

three rulers

The remains of the Mayan rulers would have been turned into rubber balls for the Ball Game. Photo: INAH

Yadeun details that the discursive content of these rings exposes that three rulers They would have been taken to the cave of death after 260 days, completing a cycle of the ritual calendar, and on the same date of their deaths, for their transmutation.

  • Wak Chan Káhk´, died on 8 chikchan, September 1, 775 AD
  • Aj Kololte’, dignitary subordinate to the Po’p dynasty, died 12 akbal 11 sotz, April 1, 776 AD
  • Lady Káwiil Kaan whose death was in 722 AD

“It is sobering to know that the Mayans wanted the body of their rulers to become a living force, something that stimulated their people. This communicating vessel made life reborn, embodied in corn, whose cycle, between harvest and sowing, comprises 260 days, a ritual period that the corpse of the dignitaries fulfilled in the ‘cave of death’”.

Angulo, INAH researcher

A short distance from the aforementioned crypt, defined as such by the probable transmutation process that it would have housed, the team of workers located another independent access of approximately 80 by 80 centimeters, in the eastern sector of the Temple of the Sun.

Entrance to one of the crypts of the rulers. Photo. INAH

Second tomb located in the Temple of the Sun

This second tomb, given the probability that they would also have stayed there remains of ancient rulersalthough in this case without leaving traces of cremations or other ritualsmust have been looted between the 19th and 20th centuries.

With 10 linear meters of travel and an equally labyrinthine configuration, this tomb, which has been dated around the year 500 AD, leads to a large chamber where only one vestige could be recognized: the fragment of the jaws of a “monster of the earth”. ” of 50 by 50 centimeters from which a small turtle emerges.

The rulers are probably represented in the figures on the stone caps that cover the entrance to the crypts. Photo: INAH

“… such discoveries in Toniná provide a more accurate idea of ​​how interesting and complex the Mayan religion was, within the Mesoamerican worldview, and how knowledge of this process of transformation of the body is essential to understand this ancient society, since what was planned for their lords was the destiny intended for the people themselves”.

Angulo, INAH researcher

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