Sometime around midnight on a night in 2006, an antiquities looter hoping to find and steal relics of an ancient Mayan civilization from a cave Belize got the punishment he deserved – he lost his grip on the rope he was clinging to and fell 60 feet (18 meters) to the bottom of the cave into a deep pile of human bones. The Belizean Mennonite farmer who heard the looter’s blood-curdling screams and rescued him gave the cave the name “Mitnacht Schreknis Heel,” which is Plautdietsch (the Dutch-German Mennonite dialect) for “Midnight Terror Cave.” Researchers recently revealed how the bones got there and confirmed that the cave deserves its gruesome name.
At the annual meeting of the American Association of Physical Anthropologists held on April 15th, bioarchaeologist Michael Prout from California State University, Los Angeles, detailed the results of his study of the human remains removed from the Midnight Terror Cave over a two year period. Radiocarbon dating of the 9,566 bones, teeth and fragments showed that they were placed there over a 1,500-year period starting 3,000 years ago at the beginning of the Mayan era. Prout’s researchers were able to piece together 144 bodies and, to their horror, determined that over half of them were children aged 4 to 10. Even worse, none of them had died of natural causes and all of the bodies had been tossed into the cave from high above.
Why? Prout believes the children were human sacrifices to Chaac, the Mayan rain god who produced thunder and rain by chopping clouds with his lightning ax. Apparently Chaac was one of those moody gods who needed incentive in the form of human sacrifices who would then escort him to the area that need rain. Historical records show evidence of eight droughts during that 1,500-year period when the Midnight Terror Cave earned its name.
It gets worse. Chaac didn’t do background checks on the human sacrifices because researcher Samantha Lorenz performed chemical analysis on the teeth and says the children did not belong to the local residents but instead were brought in for the sole purpose of dying for someone else’s rain.
Were these children taken? Were they sold? Were they voluntarily given up? Were they orphans? There are a lot of different things we need to look into. And because there are so many of them all coming from the same region, then you have to look at whether there was a trade network, essentially a human-trafficking network, in children.
Can it get any worse? Unfortunately, yes. This is the second cave devoted to sacrificing children found in Central America, joining the underground cave at Chichén Itzá in southern Mexico where half of the 101 bodies found were children.
The real horror is that it was humans who created the Midnight Terror Cave of Belize.