We met a couple outside Tikal who raved about a cave nearby that you swim and hike into to see Mayan artifacts and skeletons from human sacrifices. The name was too long to remember, but the initials were easy enough, ATM. Scott remembered reading something about this cave years ago. We were intrigued.
Actun Tunichil Muknal, or ATM, is a living museum. Open for tourism since the 1990s, the majority of the pottery and skeletal remains have been left intact, largely because they’re calcified into the cave floor. ATM is believed to have been used for rituals from 250-900AD. The Mayan rain god was believed to live in caves so they would leave offerings or conduct sacrifices during times of drought.
To get there we took a rough 45 minute van ride from San Ignacio, then hiked for another 45 minutes through three river crossings (one chest deep) to the mouth of the cave. ATM is a wet cave. Entering requires a combination of swimming, wading and hiking almost a mile into the cave to the resting place of skeletal remains from human sacrifices. The remains of 14 individuals have been found, ranging in age from one year old to adult. Obsidian blades and stingray spines have also been found suggesting the Mayans performed bloodletting rituals as well.
We have been in a number of caves, but this is the first one that required swimming. At one point, the water was neck deep and the opening between two rocks was barely wide enough for us to pass through sideways with our heads in profile. The trip to get there and seeing the remains of human sacrifices in the environment where the ritual occurred was an intense experience.
Cameras are no longer allowed in the cave since one was accidentally dropped on a skull, causing considerable damage. The pictures included in this post were provided by our tour company, Pacz Tours.
Monkey Pot, a Mayan symbol of life, is one of just four ever found in Central America:
Remains from human sacrifices:
The Crystal Maiden (who might actually be a dude) sacrificed at age 18 sparkles from calcification: