The Underworld

Millions of years ago, rainwater began seeping through the limestone surface of the Earth in Belize. The rainwater carried with it carbon dioxide from decaying plant material. This rainwater-carbon dioxide mix produced a weak acid that created a swiss cheese-like series of holes in the Earth. These holes became caves.

Today, Belize has a huge system of caves to explore and tourists often visit at least one cave while in Belize. Now, you might think that these caves are cramped and dark, but most are massive. There are even underground rivers that flow through these caves, allowing visitors to lazily float through then via inner tube.

But what seems serene is actually quite eerie. Especially when you learn that the Maya believed these caves were openings to the Underworld. Perhaps the most famous cave in Belize is Actun Tunichil Muknal, which is quite a mouthful. Belizeans and archaeologists simply call it “ATM”, and inside are some of the most important remains of the country’s ancient Mayan history – the Crystal Maiden.

The Crystal Maiden is the skeleton of a teenage girl who was most likely a sacrificial victim. This skeleton dates back more than 1,000 years. Her bones now have a shimmering, crystallized appearance due to the carbon build up in the caves mentioned above. She has quite literally become part of the cave itself.

The Maya didn’t use human sacrifice as much as other ancient civilizations such as the Aztec. Archaeologists can’t agree on the reasons behind human sacrifice for the Maya, but many think that it would have taken place when the Maya were experiencing widespread illness or drought. Sacrificing children was rare. It would only happen if the Maya felt they needed to make a bigger offering to the gods, and children were considered a more precious sacrifice.

This super scared spelunker will stick with the science behind cave formation and leave the spooky stuff to the archaeologists.