Modern-day Mexico City is built on top of centuries of previous settlements, so it’s not unusual for ancient tombs to occasionally be uncovered beneath the city’s streets. It is, however, strange to find 10 ancient skeletons arranged in a spiral with their bodies interlocked, as archaeologists recently did.
The 2,400-year-old burial was discovered during salvage excavations of an ancient village beneath the campus of the Pontifical University of Mexico, in southern Mexico City, the National Institute of Anthropology and History (INAH) announced.
The archaeologists said the burial is the “most peculiar finding” they’ve made since they began unearthing the ancient settlement of Tlalpan in 2006. There has never been a grave with so many individuals from this era (the Preclassic period) discovered in the region, according to the statement from INAH.
Video footage from the excavation trench showed how the archaeologists found the collection of human bones. Arranged in a circular grave, 6.5 feet (2 meters) in diameter, the bodies had been buried with some grave goods, including stones and ceramic jars and bowls. The 10 individuals include males and females, mostly young people, as well as an infant and a toddler.
Archaeologists in Mexico City have discovered the burial of 10 skeletons arranged in a spiral, with two of the skeletons showing intentional skull deformation. (Image credit: INAH)
The researchers have not yet determined the cause of death for the individuals or how they might be related to one another, but they have observed some signs of body modification: intentional skull deformation in two cases, and tooth mutilation in a few others. These practices —which might have involved binding children’s growing skulls with cloth and filing teeth into different shapes —were common among several cultures in Mesoamerica.
The archaeologists think the unusual burial layout was perhaps part of an ancient ritual. The age range of the deceased signals that the arrangement could symbolize the stages of life, the director of the excavations, Jimena Rivera, told the news channel Televisa.
The village of Tlalpan was among the earliest settlements to crop up in the Basin of Mexico (also called the Valley of Mexico), INAH researchers said. Close to the ancient shore of Xochimilco Lake, the village would have had abundant freshwater, trees for construction and fertile soil for agriculture. This settlement was located east of Cuicuilco, an important urban center at the time, known for its pyramids. These sites predated Teotihuacan, one of the biggest cities of the ancient world, which rose to its peak in the Basin of Mexico a few centuries later, during the Classic period.