Ancient and mysterious handprints – mostly belonging to children – were found painted on a wall in a Mexican cave. The large amount of handprints, which were done in black and red paint, were believed to have been made during a coming-of-age ritual by the ancient Maya.
A total of 137 handprints were found and they date back more than 1,200 years. They were discovered in a cave close to the northern tip of the Yucatan Peninsula about 33 feet (10 meters) underneath a big ceiba tree that the Maya community considers to be sacred.
Archaeologist Sergio Grosjean stated that the prints were probably made when children were starting puberty, as he explained, “They imprinted their hands on the walls in black… which symbolized death, but that didn’t mean they were going to be killed, but rather death from a ritual perspective,” adding, “Afterwards, these children imprinted their hands in red, which was a reference to war or life.”
And the handprints weren’t the only things they found in the cave as a carved face and six painted relief sculptures were also found. These items date back to between 800 and 1000 AD during a time in which the area experienced a massive drought. (A video and photos of the handprints can be seen here.)
Interestingly, archaeologists made the discovery completely by accident. They were actually looking for a sacred well underneath the ancient city of Chichen Itza. The cave system where the handprints were found is called Balamku (also known as “Jaguar God”) and it was discovered back in 1966 by farmers. The cave was then investigated by archaeologists and the entrance was later sealed up.
The cave remained sealed for over 50 years until being reopened in 2018 by National Geographic explorer Guillermo de Anda as well as his team. They were looking for the water table underneath Chichen Itza so that’s why the cave was opened back up. In a 2019 interview with National Geographic, Mr. de Anda explained that he spent several hours crawling around the tight tunnels of the cave on his stomach and when his head torch lit up an area, he noticed numerous ancient artifacts that were perfectly preserved such as vases, decorated plates, and incense burners.
“I couldn’t speak, I started to cry. I’ve analyzed human remains in [Chichen Itza’s] Sacred Cenote, but nothing compares to the sensation I had entering, alone, for the first time in that cave,” he stated, adding, “You almost feel the presence of the Maya who deposited these things in there.” (Pictures of those items can be seen here.)