Researchers have uncovered a temple complex in the Valley of Oaxaca, Mexico
from 300 B.C., where a specialized hierarchy of priests may have committed human sacrifice.
The evidence of such sacrifice is far from conclusive, but researchers found a human tooth and part of what may be a human limb bone from a temple room scattered with animal sacrifice remains and obsidian blades, Live Science reported. The temple dates back to around 300 B.C. when the Zapotec civilization of what is now Oaxaca inhabited it.
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The valley where the complex is located, called El Palenque, has been an area of interest to archaeologists for years. It is the center of what was once an independent mini-state. In the late '90s, researchers found and studied the remains of a 9,150-sq. foot palace complex. Radiocarbon dating and copious ash reveal the palace burned down around 60 B.C.
Now, experts have uncovered an even larger complex of buildings – 54,000 square feet – on the east side of El Palenque, consisting of a main temple flanked by two smaller temple buildings. The buildings were earthen-floored and thick-walled, with firepits inside.
There are at least two special residences, probably reserved for priests, and a number of fireboxes where offerings may have been made. Unlike other homes in the city, the two rooms had few utilitarian jars, griddles, and grinding stones, but many serving plates, which suggests that the priests were well-respected clergy members who did not cook their own food.
Researchers found a scattering of artifacts throughout the new complex, including shell, mica, and alabaster ornaments, in the main room of the main temple. There were ceramic vessels and whistles, as well as incense braziers. Obsidian blades and lances suggest that the priests engaged in ritual bloodletting and animal sacrifice, as did the remains of turkeys, doves and other animals in the temple hearth, according to the experts in the journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.
The main room is also where the human tooth and possible human limb bone were discovered, but researchers can't say for certain whether those bones were a sign of human sacrifice at the temple.
The main temple contained a kitchen much larger than those in households in El Palenque, suggesting it was a communal eating area for clergy members. Cell-like rooms, perhaps places for priests-in-training or low-ranking priests to sleep, lined the building as well.
The complex appears to have been burned and fallen out of use by the first century B.C., making it the oldest temple discovered yet in the Valley of Oaxaca.
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